The impact changes to the Employment Insurance program will have on the fishing industry is now starting to be felt, says the president of the PEI Fishermen’s Association.
Mike McGeoghegan said a federal initiative that extended benefit eligibility by five weeks in areas of high unemployment ended earlier this year, and this could create hardship for people employed in the spring fishery.
“The impact to local families and economies will be significant,” he said. If people can’t find employment in province for those five weeks, the association president said they could head west. If that happens McGeoghegan said they are unlikely to come back and that could create shortages for both fishermen seeking to crew their boats and fish plants looking for workers.
“The goal remains for seasonal workers to find local employment during the off- season,” he said. “However, this is not always possible given the seasonality of the PEI economy.”
He 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.”
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, licence 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.”