PEI

P.E.I. Fishermen's Association surveying members on when, if spring lobster season should proceed

The P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association is surveying its members on whether the spring lobster season should proceed as scheduled.

‘People have to be safe, there's too much at risk’

P.E.I.'s spring lobster season is scheduled to begin April 30. Fishermen are being asked if that's what they want to do. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

The P.E.I. Fishermen's Association is surveying its members on whether the spring lobster season should proceed as scheduled.

The season is due to start April 30, but as the pandemic progresses and Canada's cases of COVID-19 approach 20,000, there are growing concerns around whether public health measures like physical distancing can be implemented on boats, wharves and in processing plants.  

"One of the main things that's come back to us from our membership is that the captain and crew and the people on the wharves and the plants, they need to be safe and healthy," said executive director Ian MacPherson.

"We are in close dialogue not just with the federal government, other fishing organizations but also the province."

'Affecting the lives of 3,000 people, just on the boats'

Both agriculture and fisheries have been deemed essential services in Canada during the pandemic, as the labour is needed to harvest and produce Canada's domestic food supply.

In a news briefing Tuesday, P.E.I.'s Minister of Fisheries and Communities Jamie Fox said the province is looking to Ottawa for guidance, noting that the fishing industry on P.E.I. generates nearly $600 million toward P.E.I.'s economy.

The federal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Bernadette Jordan has said it's important to keep fisheries open because they're a food supply.  

On Wednesday, Jordan told CBC News that discussions are taking place around delaying fishing seasons, but she wants to hear from the fishing organizations. She said, "at this point there is no plan to close any seasons."

DFO's decision to proceed with the spring lobster season puts a lot on the shoulders of the fishermen, said MacPherson.

"It will be up to harvesting organizations to submit letters to delay the season or cancel the season."

There are six member locals of the PEIFA. Each represents fishermen in specific areas of the province. "There's a lot of very good, open, frank discussion that's taking place right now, and we'll take our direction from our membership," said MacPherson.

"There's other organizations that have canvassed their membership also and it doesn't mean every area will make the same decision, but certainly the concern is widespread."

Delay, cancel or go on time

In New Brunswick, fishing areas 36 and 37 have already delayed their season by a month. This comes after the Department of Fisheries and Oceans accepted a request made by the Fundy North Fishermen's Association.

Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Bernadette Jordan says it’s important to keep the fisheries open as a domestic food supplier. (The Associated Press)

On Wednesday, the PEIFA posted a notice on its website saying a survey was coming by the end of the day. 

The spring lobster fishery is P.E.I.'s largest with about 1,000 boats on the water. 

"I like to think that we're a chamber of commerce because that's representing 1,000 independent businesses," he said. "A lot of boats have three people, so we're talking about affecting the lives of 3,000 people just on the boats."

At this point, MacPherson said the association has not asked the federal government for any financial assistance, but it's one of the topics in the survey to members.

"If there was any sort of support it would just be 'How can we get to 2021,' and by that time we're hoping to see improvement in markets and things be different," MacPherson said.

"We understand there's a lot of Canadians that are in a really tough, serious situation and that the government is focusing on helping those Canadians.

"We're fortunate in that we are in an industry that the product … what we catch can stay in the ocean and that's not a bad thing. And then there's always next year."

MacPherson said they're hoping to receive feedback from members by the end of the week.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Kayla Hounsell, Sam Juric, Tom Ayers and Gail Harding

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