By Andy Walker
Proposed changes to Fisher Employment Insurance would have a dramatic impact on fishing communities in Canada’s smallest provinces, asserts the president of the PEI Fishermen’s Association.
Mike McGeoghegan said a significant drop in lobster prices in 2008 forced many fishers to draw benefits. He added “if we were getting $8 or $9 a pound for our lobster, we wouldn’t need EI and you would see all kinds of people coming home from the Alberta oilfields to fish.”
Lobsters are the largest species in terms of both landings and value, generating over $90 million in sales annually. McGeoghegan said there is already a provision requiring EI benefits to be paid if annual net earnings exceed a pre determined amount. He said there is a significant number of fishers who do have other income and who do not draw benefits.
“Most fishers are holders of multiple species licenses; however, a number of Gulf species are under moratorium and quota reduction,” he said. “These stocks are managed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) with limited input from the fishing community and this further limits the ability for fishers to generate additional income from fishing.”
The association president said it will be difficult to match the skill set of fishermen with comparable local jobs. He also pointed out many weeks are needed prior to the start of the season getting traps and equipment ready and that task would be difficult if fishermen were employed in other jobs.
“The core fishers on PEI are continually seeking ways to increase the price and quality of their catches,” he said. “Trap reductions, license retirements and quality initiatives are several ways in which harvesters are contributing to a healthier and sustainable industry. Higher product prices are the preferred solution to reduce EI dependency.”
McGeoghegan said the status quo should be retained when it comes to fisher EI, and Ottawa should sit down with fishermen for a “meaningful dialogue" on how to improve the profitability of the industry.