In the tiny community of Pinsent’s Arm on the Labrador coast, Elsie Campbell and her family are struggling to make ends meet, as their town is still mired in sea ice.
Campbell works in the fish plant in Pinsent’s Arm — which employs 12 people when it’s processing whelk and scallops — and her husband, son and daughter all work in the fishery.
“Last year this time, my husband was finished with his crab. He had his crab quota in. And this year he’s not even started,” she said. “There’s four of us living in this house — my husband and me and our son and daughter — none of us has got any income. My husband and son’s unemployment was cut off the 19th of April, my daughter’s was cut off on the ninth of May and mine was cut off on the 24th of May.”
Liberal MHA Lisa Dempster said she’s got a long list of names of constituents in similar situations, and she’s angry that the federal government is refusing to step in with financial aid for fishery workers.
In a statement, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) said it’s keeping an eye on the situation.
“At this time, no fishery is closed as a result of ice conditions. Compensation has only been issued in the past under extreme conditions when ice conditions caused lengthy and widespread delays,” said David Walters, a spokesman for DFO. “The department is actively monitoring the situation and working closely with the industry. Measures such as expanding the season, to ensure harvesters have the opportunity to catch their full quota, could be considered.”
Dempster said that’s troubling. She said the softshell season for crab will start soon, so the species could be threatened if DFO expands the season.
Dempster said the only reasonable option is to give financial assistance to people through employment insurance (EI).
“I know one of (Fisheries Minister Gail Shea’s) comments was we could possibly look at rolling quota over for next year,” Dempster said. “Money that’s going to come in next year is not going to pay the bills for people that are hurting now.”
Provincial Fisheries Minister Keith Hutchings said he sympathizes with the people in Labrador, but the issue is clearly a federal responsibility and it’s not right to let Ottawa off the hook.
“You have a robust EI fund that has been contributed to. It’s certainly there, the mechanisms are there, to deliver this program,” he said. “It’s their responsibility. They have the means to do it, and they need to step up and take care of it.”
Hutchings pointed out the federal government has taken similar measures in other years with heavy ice conditions.
Fisheries union president Earle McCurdy said part of the issue is that only a small group of people are being affected.
“For them, it’s very serious. I mean, the fact that it’s not a super-large number doesn’t mean it’s not serious for the ones who are affected,” he said.
“We’ve written (to Shea) on a couple of occasions — no response back to the letters, not even an acknowledgment.”