Trudeau announces $62.5 million for seafood, fish processors during coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau announces $62.5 million to support fish, seafood processors
WATCH: Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau announces $62.5 million to support fish, seafood processors

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $62.5 million to support seafood and fish processors who may be struggling during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking from Rideau Cottage on Saturday, he told reporters money from Canadian Seafood Stabilization Fund will go towards helping fish and seafood companies modify their plants to meet COVID-19 health regulations, support social distancing measures as well as buy personal protective equipment for processors.

“As we fight COVID-19, people who work in fish and seafood processing plants across the country are playing a crucial role when it comes to getting food to our tables,” he said.

READ MORE: Live updates: Coronavirus in Canada

“This funding will help ensure that they can safely continue their important work.”

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Trudeau said the money could also be used to purchase new equipment like freezers or storage space in order to keep food from going bad while they respond “to a changing market.”

Fish and seafood are among the country’s top food exports and the industry employs roughly 72,000 people.

Bernadette Jordan, minister of fisheries, oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, said during the daily ministerial update that the federal government had been hearing “real concerns” about moving product, from both “storage capacity and a market perspective.”

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“Without the ability to move goods efficiently and effectively, processors can’t buy more from our harvesters and in turn they can’t supply Canadians with seafood,” she said.

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“In order for the harvesters to continue to fish, they have to be able to sell their product. That’s one of the reasons why the processors are the people that are first out the door.”

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COVID-19 has killed more than 2,350 people across Canada, more than half of whom were living in long-term care facilities.

READ MORE: WHO says ‘no evidence’ that recovered COVID-19 patients cannot be re-infected

Trudeau spoke with provincial and territorial premiers late Friday after more deaths in long-term care homes were reported along with new figures detailing how the illness is affecting people and the economy.

A statement from his office said the premiers acknowledged the importance of gradually reopening the economy based on advice from public health experts.

In the statement, first ministers agreed protecting the health and safety of all Canadians should remain the top priority when restarting the economy.

Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says provinces, territories will have ‘lead role’ in reopening economies
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says provinces, territories will have ‘lead role’ in reopening economies

Trudeau said Saturday they discussed putting together a joint statement outlining what needs to be done in order to reopen the economy that would establish principles and guidelines for the country, based on the advice of Canada’s chief medical officers.

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“We have to be mindful that the economy and the realities of each province and territory are unique, so the timing and specific measures will be different across jurisdictions,” he said.

“If we don’t get the next phase right, we risk losing all the progress we’ve made so far.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: More than 200,000 people have died from COVID-19 worldwide

Mel Arnold, Conservative critic for fisheries and oceans, said the Conservative Party has been calling for support for the seafood harvesting and processing sectors “for weeks.”

Saturday’s announcement “fails to address the needs” of these sectors, he said in an email.

“Harvesters need certainty regarding future season openings,” Arnold said.

“What’s more, the Trudeau government has yet to take any action to make Canadian fish and seafood more available to Canadian consumers to help offset the loss of export markets during this crisis.”

— With files from The Canadian Press