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‘Things could’ve been way worse’: Spring lobster season nears end amid COVID-19 market challenges

Fishing boats, loaded with traps, head from port in West Dover, N.S. on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019 as the lobster season on Nova Scotia's South Shore begins after a one-day weather delay. Groups representing fishermen in Atlantic Canada are looking for direct federal help that will help them ride out uncertain markets this year.
Fishing boats, loaded with traps, head from port in West Dover, N.S. on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019 as the lobster season on Nova Scotia's South Shore begins after a one-day weather delay. Groups representing fishermen in Atlantic Canada are looking for direct federal help that will help them ride out uncertain markets this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Ottawa is re-launching a cost-shared program with the provinces aimed at helping the seafood industry to market its product.

The Maritime Fishermen’s Union predicted a gloomy forecast for the spring season with the pandemic’s safety concerns, crushed markets and reduced processing capacity.

But fishermen are taking it “day-by-day,” says the union’s executive director.

Martin Mallet, the executive director of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, says the season could’ve been much worse due to COVID-19
Martin Mallet, the executive director of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, says the season could’ve been much worse due to COVID-19. File - Callum Smith / Global News

“Things could’ve been way worse,” says Martin Mallet. “At least our fishermen have had a chance to go out and catch part of their catch.”

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The price for lobster has taken an approximate 40-50 per cent hit compared to last year, he says, coming in at about $3.50 to $5 per pound.

In Ottawa Wednesday, the prime minister announced money for the industry to market its product. A $42-million fund that was first implemented in 2018, but now will be open with no deadline to apply, according to the press secretary for Bernadette Jordan, the federal Fisheries and Oceans minister.

“As of today, the Canadian Fish and Seafood Opportunities fund is available to help producers access new markets, reach new customers and maintain a foothold internationally,” said Justin Trudeau. “Canada’s seafood is among the best in the world and this fund will help spread the word.”

READ MORE: ‘Level of anxiety really high’: Lobster season to start Friday for some Maritimers

Trudeau also announced that applications open Monday for the $62-million Seafood Stabilization Fund, a COVID-19 relief fund for the processing sector, which was announced earlier in the pandemic.

Jane Deeks, Jordan’s press secretary says the money will be available “as soon as possible.”

Mallet says federal support is great, but the delay in getting the dollars or details is the concern.

He says temporary foreign workers recently started working in New Brunswick after a provincial ban was placed — then lifted — due to the coronavirus. And that has helped the increase processing capacity for the Maritimes.

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“Things are stabilizing,” Mallet tells Global News. “If things can stay relatively stable for the rest of the season, we might get by and survive until next year.”

Restaurants reopening is also helping market demand increase.

The spring season for several local areas is expected to close at the end of June.

But Mallet says Zone 23 — covering northeastern New Brunswick — has asked for a four-day extension to the season due to the initial two-week delay.