Souris bullpen

Normally the bullpen in Souris Harbour would have fishers loading their lobster traps onto the wharf at this time. The uncertainty of if and when the season will open May 1 has caused most to hold off on the annual task. Charlotte MacAulay photo

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Exactly what April 30th, setting day for lobster fishermen, will look like in the harbours and seafood plants across PEI is still unknown.

However, ongoing dialogue between the sectors continues to take place.

The reality is the markets just aren’t there, Fortune fisher Edwin MacKie said.

“There doesn’t seem to be much of a market with no restaurants, cruise ships or casinos open,” he said.

“Do we fill the freezers full of something there isn’t a home for?”

Though this crisis is not comparable to anything on a global scale, Mr McKie is reminded of the glut in the blueberry industry a few years ago. Bumper crops filled the freezers and prices plummeted.

“It took awhile to get through that,” Mr McKie, who is also a blueberry farmer, said.

Still fishers continue to prepare for the 2020 season as they do every April. Traps have been stacked on some eastern PEI wharves as they are every spring but the difference this time is waiting has been added to the last-minute to-do lists.

There are no easy answers, Ian MacPherson, manager of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association, said.

“We are in an unusual situation,” he said. “We are striving to have one announcement when we are all sure of the outcome instead of bits and pieces trickling out.”

“There are a lot of variables out there,” Mr MacPherson said, noting it isn’t just the market factor.

“There are a lot of pieces in the supply chain.”

Now is the time plants would be ramping up to get processing lines manned, said Jerry Gavin executive director of The PEI Seafood Processor’s Association, which represents 13 PEI seafood plants including lobster, crab and mussel plants.

“When it comes to anything around the supply we take the lead from the harvesters,” Mr Gavin said.

“We all agree it has to be a viable industry.”

However, the processors have their own decisions to make when it comes to opening plants.

Mr Gavin said it was positive to see the federal government allow temporary foreign workers to come in.

They make up one third of the processing workforce for members of the association, but there are still the logistics of how those workers will self-isolate once they are here.

Mr Gavin said if the plants open there will be a lot of adjustments as they ensure directives from public health are followed. While no one has any concrete answers yet for PEI, in other Atlantic provinces lobster fishing areas decisions have been made.

In Nova Scotia, the Fundy North Fishermen’s Association, which represents a large portion of harvesters in Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 36, has requested a 30-day opening delay in LFAs 36 and 37. The fishery there will now open on April 30, 2020.

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