Some P.E.I. fishermen say physical distancing on the job will be challenging

As setting day approaches, some Island fishermen say it's going to be a challenge to maintain two metres of physical distance on the boats.

'All we can do is keep our fingers crossed and try to do things safe'

Stephen Watts, a lobster fisherman from Grand Tracadie, says the biggest challenge will be maintaining physical distancing on the boat. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

As setting day approaches, some Island fishermen say it's going to be a challenge to maintain two metres of physical distance on the boats. 

This week, Island lobster fishermen have been preparing for the opening of the spring lobster season Friday.

The season was delayed two weeks by the COVID-19 pandemic. That delay was partly due to staffing issues at some processing plants in the region, and partly to give the industry time to establish new safety protocols to prevent an outbreak.

Safety protocols

The safety protocols were developed by the P.E.I. Workers Compensation Board in consultation with the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association and reviewed by the chief public health officer.

They include a daily pre-board screening to make sure crew members don't have any symptoms of the virus, cleaning and disinfecting of frequently-touched surfaces and implementing two-metre distancing while working — something some fishermen said won't be easy to do.

Watts purchased hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes to maintain cleaning protocols on his boat. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

Stephen Watts, a lobster fisherman from Grand Tracadie, said he thinks the protocols are manageable, but physical distancing on the boat will be the biggest challenge. 

"There's the odd time you … might be a little bit too close and that, but we'll try to do it as much as … possible," he said.

Watts said he's stocked up on hand sanitizer for his crew and has implemented regular cleaning measures.

Just so long as nobody decides that the rules don't apply to them, we'll be fine.— Chad Dennis, deckhand

He's been fishing for over 30 years and said he usually looks forward to setting day, but this year he has mixed feelings.

"There's so much uncertainty about prices and processing and we want all them to be safe too," he said.

"It's a different year and a different time, so we just have to do what we got to do."

'We're all part of the same community'

Peter Boertien, who fishes out of North Lake Harbour, said he thinks it will be impossible to keep the two-metre distance, especially when lifting heavy lobster traps out of the water.

"This is all work carried out in a 10-square-foot area, so social distancing is not a possibility on board a boat," he said.

"All we can do is keep our fingers crossed and try to do things safe."

The Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association worked with the P.E.I. Workers Compensation Board to come up with a set of protocols for Island fishermen to follow. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

Chad Dennis, a deckhand who works on his step-father's boat, said it typically takes at least a month to prepare for setting day, and this year he spent time thoroughly cleaning and painting the boat.

He said he's not concerned about maintaining physical distancing as he'll be working with his family on a large boat.

"But smaller boats or bigger crews, that might be a little harder for them," he said.

Dennis said he's more worried about what will happen when they land at the wharf, and that the public might not follow the rules that have been laid out. Harbour authorities are asking the public to stay away from the wharfs to allow fishermen and buyers to do their work in a safe environment. 

Dennis said despite all of the changes, he doesn't think it will be an issue for most fishermen to abide by the new protocols. 

"We're all part of the same community," he said.

"Just so long as nobody decides that the rules don't apply to them, we'll be fine."

Ian MacPherson, executive director of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association, acknowledged physical distancing is not always possible while lobster fishing, but said those times where people are working closer than two metres together would be brief.

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.
  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.


Isabella Zavarise is a video journalist with CBC in P.E.I. You can contact her at


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