Feds pledge nearly $470m to fish harvesters

PM also announces new support for Indigenous communities and the loosening of restrictions at some federal parks

Canada’s fish and seafood sector is getting a boost from Ottawa to the tune of $470 million.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday (May 14) the launch of the Fish Harvesters Benefit.

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The new initiative is aimed at harvesters facing a 25% drop in income in the face of the pandemic, covering up to 75% of losses up to a maximum of $10,000.

Additional non-repayable grants for fish harvesters who own their own business are also being made available.

The prime minister said changes would be made for Employment Insurance claims in 2021, allowing benefits to be based on income from previous years.

The West Coast industry has been particularly hard hit over the past year.

In 2019, the total number of salmon – all species – caught by the commercial sector in B.C. was just 629,000.

That is the lowest catch in 70 years, according to the Unifor labour union.

A study published by Unifor says “artificially low” catch limits for the commercial salmon fishing sector over the past 25 years brought the sector to the brink, and 2019’s virtual collapse of Fraser River sockeye is now pushing them over.

The federal government is also launching a $100-million Agriculture and Food Business Solutions fund for agri-food companies facing unexpected financial strain.

During his daily media briefing outside his home in Ottawa, the prime minister announced nearly $400 million in funding directed at helping Indigenous communities during the pandemic.

First Nations businesses will be able to apply for $306 million in non-reimbursable contributions, while Ottawa is pledging another $75 million to help Indigenous young people find jobs over the summer.

Last month the federal government announced $9 billion in benefits for students, with applications for monthly support worth $1,250-2,000 opening on Friday.

Trudeau promised Thursday an additional $10 million in funding for shelters for Indigenous women and children fleeing domestic violence — a particularly complicated issue the past two months amid urgings from public officials for Canadians to stay at home.

Meanwhile, June 1 will also mark the loosening of restrictions on some national parks where social distancing can be safely practised, the prime minister said.

“We know that we can’t prevent Canadians from going outside when the weather is nice, you just have to help them to do it safely, continue to impress upon them the need for social distancing, recognize that certain areas are more vulnerable than others and will need to remain closed,” Trudeau said.

The federal government will be working with provinces to ensure the opening of federal parks are synchronized with neighbouring provincial parks.

But Trudeau said Canadians should not expect parks to open yet near Indigenous communities due to “vulnerabilities” or in the Arctic regions.

The government will be imposing new boating regulations that restrict pleasure craft from operating in Arctic waters, or the coastal areas of northern Quebec and Labrador.

—With files from Nelson Bennett

torton@biv.com

@reporton

© Virden Empire-Advance

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