It's setting day for P.E.I.'s lobster fishery after 2-week delay

Lobster fishermen set their traps from ports around Prince Edward Island Friday morning, after a two-week delay to the spring fishery.

Public being asked to stay away from wharfs to prevent transmission of COVID-19

The Julie Ann Jamie I and its crew head back out to the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the last load of 150 traps. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

Lobster fishermen set their traps from ports around Prince Edward Island Friday morning, after a two-week delay to the spring fishery.

The spring fishery on P.E.I.'s North Shore and the eastern Northumberland Strait was delayed partly because some lobster processing plants in the region were not ready to open due to staffing issues.

Many of the plants rely in part on temporary foreign workers, which posed a problem since P.E.I.'s borders are closed to all but permanent residents. A plan was devised and they began to arrive at the end of April, but required two weeks in quarantine before heading to work.

Stephanie Peters baits a trap with herring and other things lobsters like to eat. (Brian McInnis/CBC)
The Barely Legal is loaded with the last load of traps. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

The fishing industry also needed more time to establish new COVID-19 safety protocols in plants, on wharfs and on boats.

It will be a season like no other for fishermen: they'll be asked questions about their health daily, are not allowed to share equipment and must wear gloves at all times. They're required to thoroughly clean frequently-touched surfaces on board vessels, and to maintain a physical distance of two metres when possible.

A fisherman readies a trap to be loaded on a boat. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

Some fishermen have expressed concern that physical distancing on boats will be difficult. For that reason and others, some have even lobbied for the season to be cancelled.

Harbour authorities are asking the public to stay away from the wharves to allow fishermen and buyers to do their work in a safe environment. As members of the media, CBC received permission to take photos and video of the start of the season from a distance.

The sun is just breaking over the horizon Friday morning as the boats from North Rustico wharf head out to the Gulf of St. Lawrence for the opening day of the lobster season. (Brian McInnis/CBC)
The season was delayed two weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

'Buy Canadian lobster,' urges PM

Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged consumers to "buy Canadian" to support fishermen and processors.  

"Have a fish fry, or buy Canadian lobster," Trudeau said during his daily COVID-19 briefing. "Not only will it taste great, it will help the people who keep food on our plates."

Crew members of the Lexi D will be busy when the boat gets to the lobster grounds. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

The federal government also pledged $470 million for the fisheries sector, including $268 million to cover 75 per cent of the losses for fishermen, as well as a new $201.8-million non-repayable grant program to pay up to $10,000 to fish harvesters who own their own businesses. The size of the grants will depend on the fish harvesters' historic revenue, said the Prime Minister's Office.

The support is something P.E.I. Premier Dennis King has been asking for.

The boats have to wait outside the harbour until 6 a.m. before they can head to the fishing grounds farther out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. (Brian McInnis/CBC)
The sun is just coming up as this boat sails past the North Rustico harbour breakwater during opening day of the lobster season Friday. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

With the closure of restaurants and docking of cruise ships the last two months, demand for lobster has crashed. 

The spring lobster fishery is scheduled to end June 30. 

Lobster boats from North Rustico sail past an abandoned wharf as they head out of the harbour for the opening day of the lobster season Friday. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

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Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a bachelor of journalism (honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email