P.E.I. Shellfish Association wants 2-week delay to season because of COVID-19

Oyster, quahog and clam harvesters are requesting a two-week delay to the start of their season. It was scheduled to open May 1st. If a delay is allowed, the start would occur May 15th at the earliest.

'People are scared,' says association president

Fishermen out in the water at Cascumpec Bay to look for wild oysters in September 2019. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Oyster, quahog and clam harvesters are requesting a two-week delay to the start of their season. It was scheduled to open May 1 — if a delay is allowed, the start would occur May 15 at the earliest.

"People are scared," said Bob MacLeod, president of the P.E.I. Shellfish Association.

"There's people who fished for 50 years and never had this before, and all of a sudden, through no fault of theirs, no fault of the buyers, no fault of anybody's, there's no markets. What do you do?"

Of the 257 members of the association, 213 voted on the issue last week, with 95 per cent in favour of postponing the start of the spring season — a recommendation the association has sent to Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan. 

Uncertainty stressful

MacLeod said for many harvesters who have done this work for decades, all of the uncertainty is extremely stressful at a time when employment insurance may be running out and major bills adding up. 

'It'll keep you from starving, but at the same time it won't cover the yearly bills that you have,' says Bob MacLeod, president of the P.E.I. Shellfish Association, of the CERB. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

"You don't know when they're going to get going, and what the price is going to be, or if we're even going to have a season," said MacLeod.

MacLeod said he hopes the association's request will be granted and he expects to hear a response by the end of the week. But, he said, either way harvesters are taking a hit. 

"If you take two weeks or four weeks early in the spring season, it's going to put a lot of strain on a lot of folks to get their requirements for the EI," said MacLeod.  He said he's been getting the word out to harvesters that they can apply for the CERB, the COVID-19 emergency benefit, but at a maximum of $500 per week, it won't be enough to cover expenses. 

"It'll keep you from starving, but at the same time it won't cover the yearly bills that you have," he said. 

Wild oysters harvested from Cascumpec Bay in P.E.I. in fall of 2019. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

MacLeod said greater financial assistance may be needed.

In the meantime, he's in contact with buyers about markets and working to keep his members informed.

P.E.I.'s Fisheries Minister Jamie Fox said he's in regular communication with his counterparts in Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick, to determine next steps for the region's fisheries. 

"We're in a unique situation here," said Fox, about the collaboration among provinces.

"We're seeing processors, harvesters, and the buyers all coming together. We're all sharing ideas and we're trying to put protocols in place that will be accepted by Dr. Morrison and also occupational health and safety."

He said the fishing industry in P.E.I. employs at least 8,000 people, and represents the Island's largest export market. He said protecting that asset is about working with others in Atlantic Canada to make sure everyone moves forward in a way that is safe and sustainable. 

"It's not about us against them. It's us as an industry as a whole in Atlantic Canada moving forward," said Fox. 

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.


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