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‘Extremely difficult’ for fishing industry to maintain health protocols if season proceeds: union

Click to play video 'Calls for delay to spring fishing season' Calls for delay to spring fishing season
People in the fishing and processing industry in the Maritimes are calling for a delay in the spring fishing season as a result of COVID-19. Callum Smith reports.

People in the fishing industry across the Maritimes are calling for a delay in the spring seasons as a result of COVID-19.

But with the clock ticking towards a May 1 start date for many, fishers say concern continues to grow about what could come from this season — if it happens at all.

“Truth be told, it’s going to be extremely difficult,” says Martin Mallet, the executive director of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union.

“The boats are not designed to enable social distancing.”

READ MORE: Lobster fishers, processors call for delay of spring season

A letter to the federal government, signed by Lobster Processors of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and more than 20 other industry stakeholders, have called for a delay of at least two weeks.

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“The government’s telling us that we have to keep following these [public health] guidelines, but then on the other breath, they’re telling us there’s going to have to be 200 people descend on our wharf (if the season proceeds) in a couple weeks here and that’s going to be all thrown out the window,” says Russell Vibert, a fisherman from Miscou Island.

“But on top of that, we have some extremely serious issues with the markets right now, especially for lobster,” Mallet says.

“The markets are mostly all collapsed.”

Martin Mallet, the executive director of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, says it will be extremely difficult to proceed with the fishing season while following public health protocols

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On Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, the Inverness South Fishermen’s Association says a delay could have an important and beneficial impact.

“That gives us two more weeks for markets to maybe open up overseas and maybe change the outlook on the end of June,” says Jordan MacDougall, the association’s president.

“Whereas right now, the outlook for the end of June looks very cloudy.”

Mallet says he’s pleased the federal government has expanded the CERB, now including people making less than $1,000 per month, people expecting a seasonal job that isn’t happening due to the virus, and people with EI that has ran out since the start of the year. But he’s calling for more financial support to keep the industry sustainable.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia lobster industry gets creative during COVID-19 pandemic

“Instead of [financial supports] being for only four months — which, for the most part, that’s what’s been announced — we would be asking for some help over 12 months or more,” he says.
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Vibert says the impact could be felt for the long-term if the situation isn’t handled properly.

“If the lobsters go on the market, they’ll probably be stockpiled, froze, and then next year, we’ll be competing with a low price lobster they’ve got on hand frozen,” he says.

“It could affect us for years to come.”

Jane Deeks, the press secretary to Bernadette Jordan, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, tells Global News the minister will quote “have more to say soon” regarding the season.

Meanwhile, Mallet says nobody wants the season to be cancelled, but they might have to ask for that if health and safety conditions cant be met.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.