Nfld. & Labrador

FFAW calling for further delay for crab fishery, as COVID-19 protocols released

While the Fish Food & Allied Workers union has called for the crab fishery to be delayed until at least May 11, the Fish Harvesting Safety Association released 12 control measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on fishing vessels.

12 control measures include what to do if crew member gets sick

Fish harvesters work in close proximity to one another, making precautions to stop the spread of coronavirus, like physical distancing, difficult. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

The Food, Fish & Allied Workers union is calling for the crab fishery to be postponed until at least May 11, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FFAW's crab committee chairs met Sunday and voted to delay the fishery opening again. President Keith Sullivan said the recommendation will be sent to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which holds the authority to open or delay the fishery.

"We have to be able to ensure that we have a safe fishery for everyone involved," said Sullivan. 

"Harvesters were responsible enough to delay or recommend delaying, and this shows that safety is the No. 1 priority."

Still, Sullivan said harvesters aren't ready to call off the 2020 crab fishing season, which employs thousands and is worth more than $300 million, including export value and spinoffs.

FFAW-Unifor president Keith Sullivan says the recommendation to delay the fishery again will be passed on to DFO. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"It's a very valuable fishery and certainly it's not one that people would want to see go by the wayside," he said 

"But again, the main thing, and I can't stress that enough, that I've continually heard from members [is] that we've got to ensure that we can do things safely."

Sullivan said they're also calling for a one-month extension to the fishing season. Sullivan said the decision will be re-evaluated and they will give harvesters at least 10 days' notice prior to the fishery opening.

The committee also voted unanimously to recommend vessels from out of the province and country be prohibited from landing in the province until fish harvesters deem it safe.

Safety protocols released

Meanwhile, the Fish Harvesting Safety Association has released 12 control measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on fishing vessels, if fisheries open later this spring.

The COVID-19 Safe Work Practices include guidelines that recommend what vessel owner/operators should do if a crew member gets sick while at sea.

The association said fish harvesters work in a risky environment; they work together closely, share food, sleeping accommodations and washrooms. They also said many fish harvesters are older, which could put them at risk of complications if they get infected with COVID-19. 

"Once you get on a fishing vessel, to keep that distance is extremely difficult and impossible at times," said Sullivan.

Vessel owners and operators have a responsibility to keep fish harvesters safe, the NL-FHSA said, and advised them to apply the guidelines that they can to provide a safe workplace.

However, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said earlier this month that commercial fisheries will not open before May 1.

The COVID-19 Safe Work Practices have 12 control measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. They have guidelines for vessel owner/operators to follow if a crew member gets sick. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

To limit the spread of COVID-19, the measures say vessel owners, operators or skippers should conduct a safety briefing with crew and go over safe work practices two weeks before a trip.

Meanwhile, the crew must practise all public health precautions, like self-isolation, handwashing and physical distancing and monitor their temperature. Prior to departure, crew should be screened using a COVID-19 questionnaire.

The safety protocols also state only crew and service personnel should board a fishing vessel. Service personnel, such as fuel suppliers or mechanics, should also be screened with a COVID-19 questionnaire and be escorted on the vessel.

The practices also suggest creating a restricted area around each vessel in the harbour to allow safe access for crew loading and unloading gear, food and supplies.

The protocols recommend wearing non-medical masks or face coverings in public areas to limit the spread of the virus. They also encourage good personal hygiene, enhanced vessel cleaning during and between trips and limiting shared food handling. 

For sleeping accommodations, they said each crew member should have their own bunk with a curtain. They recommend having two metres between each bunk.

Brenda Greenslade is the executive director of N.L.'s Fish Harvester Safety Association. (Jane Adey/CBC)

However, in a letter attached to the protocols, the association's executive director, Brenda Greenslade, and board chair, David Decker, acknowledge it would be difficult to contain transmission of the virus if a crew member got sick.

If a crew member does get sick, they must notify the skipper, call 811, isolate in their sleeping quarters and wear a mask. All shared areas must be cleaned and disinfected and the sick crew member must be brought to shore. Once on shore, a sick crew member must immediately go home and self-isolate, and so should other crew members.

Fish harvesters who get sick at work must report it under workers' compensation legislation. 

The NL-FHSA said the practices were developed using the most up-to-date public health information and were reviewed by Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald.

Sullivan said the fish harvesters also had input into the practices.

"This is a document that will continue to be upgraded with the best practices and new information as it comes along," said Sullivan.

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