Commercial fishing industry gets some good news regarding funding

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OTTAWA – Commercial fish harvesters received some good news last week in the form of federal funding to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jane Graham, executive director of the Ontario Commercial Fisheries Association (OCFA), said funding announced last week by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is good news. “The fish harvester benefit and the fish harvester grant is available to all harvesters across the country.”

At this point the details of the program haven’t been outlined, but Ms. Graham told the Recorder previous programs announced earlier this spring have not been made available for commercial fish harvesters in Ontario. “The funding helps harvesters if they have not been able to take advantage of the wage subsidy funding programs.”

“Fish harvesters work hard to provide Canadians with nutritious food to put on their tables, and are a vital part of our food supply from coast to coast to coast. This investment will help ease the burden on the people and businesses at the heart of our fishing and seafood industry. We are here to support them,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a release. He announced on May 14 that up to $469.4 million in funding is being provided to support Canada’s fish harvesters, who are economically impacted by the pandemic but cannot access existing federal measures. This investment builds on the $62.5 million for the new Canadian Seafood Stabilization Fund announced last month to help Canada’s fish and seafood processing sector.

The Government of Canada is launching the Fish Harvester Benefit, a program worth up to $276.6 million, to help provide income support for this year’s fishing seasons to eligible self-employed fish harvesters, sharespersons and crew who cannot access the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. Support will be provided to those that experience fishing income declines of greater than 25 percent in the 2020 tax year, compared with a reference period to be identified. This measure covers 75 percent of fishing income losses beyond a 25 percent income decline threshold, up to a maximum individual entitlement equivalent to what is provided under the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy ($847 per week for up to 12 weeks). 

The government has also launched the Fish Harvester Grant, a program worth up to $201.8 million, to provide grants to help fish harvesters impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and who are ineligible for the Canada Emergency Business Account or equivalent measures. This will give them more liquidity to address non-deferrable business costs. The program would provide non-repayable support of up to $10,000 to self-employed fish harvesters with a valid fishing licence. Size of the non-repayable support will vary depending on the level of fish harvesters’ historic revenue. 

The government has also proposed measures or changes to Employment Insurance (EI) that would allow self-employed fish harvesters and sharespersons to access EI benefits on the basis of insurable earnings from previous seasons (winter and summer claims).

As has been previously reported, other government funding announcements this year to the commercial fishing industry have not been available to harvesters or industry businesses in Ontario.