Ontario Commercial Fisheries Association not included in federal government’s $62.5M aid for fish and seafood sector

Ontario Commercial Fisheries' Association

BURNT ISLAND – The Ontario Commercial Fisheries Association (OCFA) is still looking to the federal government for financial and marketing support of the industry as it is feeling the pinch with the COVID-19 pandemic as restaurants across North America having been closed due to city, provincial and state ordinances to flatten the curve, devastating Ontario’s commercial fishery. This comes even after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced new funds in the amount of $62.5 million for Canada’s fish and seafood processors that will help them adapt to challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A total of $62 million was provided, none for Ontario,” stated George Purvis of Purvis Fisheries Limited based in Western Manitoulin’s Burnt Island. “Most of the funds went to the Atlantic coast, but there was no funding provided for Ontario.” 

“Yes, we as an association are a little upset,” stated Mr. Purvis. “That has been the problem all along. In this newest funding announcement, nothing was provided for Ontario or commercial fishermen. Not a nickel.” 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last week $62.5 million is being provided for Canada’s fish and seafood sector amid mounting concerns over the state of the country’s food supply.

The prime minister said the funds will go toward protecting workers and putting in place recommended health guidelines within the industry.

“We’re giving more money to processors so they can purchase personal protective equipment for workers, adapt to health protocols and support other social distancing measures (with the COVID-19 pandemic),” Mr. Trudeau said in his funding announcement. “For example, fish processing plans could buy new equipment, like freezers or storage space, so that their product can stay good while they respond to a changing market.”

Keith Sullivan, president of Fish, Food and Allied Workers, a trade union representing 15,000 workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, called the financial relief encouraging, noting harvesters from Atlantic Canada to British Columbia have been looking for relief since the pandemic began. 

“Everything has been shut down and we can’t market our fish,” said Mr. Purvis in a previous interview with the Recorder. “So instead everyone in our industry has fish stocked in freezers,” pointing out commercial fishers had been catching 300,000 pounds of fish in a day on Lake Erie this spring. “The industry had been expecting big things this spring.”

In regards to the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, an industry survey was conducted March 27-29 to assess the impacts of operations during the pandemic. Seventy-four percent of respondents are worried about a lack of cash flow to cover expenses and 48 percent are concerned about a permanent business closure. The number one concern among fishermen was losing their business. Eighty-eight percent of respondents have had to reduce their level of employees or anticipate they will need to do so. The industry forecasts 80 percent of employees will be laid off, representing jobs in rural communities.