Most P.E.I. lobster fishermen want spring season to go ahead despite COVID-19, survey suggests

Most of the lobster fishermen on P.E.I. who answered a recent survey say they want the spring season to go ahead despite the COVID-19 pandemic, though not on April 30 when the season traditionally begins.

Safety of captains and crews has to be 'paramount,' says fishermen's association

The spring lobster season traditionally starts April 30 on P.E.I. (Submitted by Dianne Townshend)

Most of the lobster fishermen on P.E.I. who answered a recent survey say they want the spring season to go ahead despite the COVID-19 pandemic, though not on April 30 when the season traditionally begins.

The P.E.I. Fishermen's Association conducted the survey starting last week, and got responses from 775 of 954 members who fish the spring lobster fishery — a more than 80 per cent response rate. 

When asked whether the spring season should proceed "considering what you know today on the current spread of COVID-19," 57 per cent said yes. 

Then, in a separate question, members were asked whether the PEIFA should request DFO delay the opening of the 2020 season, and 70 per cent said yes.

Ian MacPherson, executive director of the PEIFA, said the survey was an effort to gather feedback from fishermen, rather than a binding vote on whether to ask DFO to delay or cancel the season. 

"It's a complicated issue and, to me, there's no right or wrong answer," MacPherson said. "But we felt this was the best way to give us direction."

He said the PEIFA and advisory committees will use the results to help determine whether to proceed with the start of the season in two weeks, or to ask DFO for a delay or cancellation. 

MacPherson expects the decision to be made "sooner rather than later."

"People want clarity, so any clarity we can bring to our members is our primary focus right now."

Ian MacPherson, executive director of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association, says lobster fishermen want clarity on what is happening with the spring season. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

One of the big concerns is whether fishermen and their crews can fish safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As part of the survey, fishermen were asked whether they feel comfortable taking their crews aboard their boats and interacting with fish buyers while respecting public health guidelines such as social distancing.

Most — 64 per cent — said they were comfortable. More than a third said they were not. 

"Certainly the message came back that the safety of captain and crews has to be paramount," MacPherson said. "So we're working with the medical experts to make sure that protocols are out there, that they're doable, that they can be followed."

With the pandemic disrupting economies around the world, there is also concern the demand for lobster, the price, and whether plants will even be ready to process the catch by May 1. 

"About 40 per cent of our product does go off Island," MacPherson said. "Some plants are in a better position than others in terms of staffing and readiness."

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.

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