The situation has gone from bad to dire, according to a press release from the Fish Food and Allied Workers issued Tuesday, and income bridging from the federal government is long overdue.
Having gone without any income for over two months, many harvesters feel left with no option than to risk their gear and personal safety to go fishing through pack ice conditions.
Glen Newbury, a harvester from Shoe Cove in the Green Bay area, has been receiving calls from affected individuals in his area. Pack ice is so bad there, no boats are able to risk leaving the dock.
“People are in a desperate situation,” he stated in the press release. “Families that rely on the fishing industry who’ve had no income for months are stressed beyond belief, wondering how they’re going to put food on the table.”
Repeated calls by the FFAW, provincial government and affected individuals have resulted in the federal government acknowledging the situation, yet no action has been taken to provide income support.
“A family called me the other day whose last (employment insurance) cheque was on April 18,” Newbury said. “They’ve got two children, one in university, and they’re just at a loss for what they can do to support their family until the ice lets up.”
Union president Keith Sullivan says it is the responsibility of the federal government to assist these individuals.
“These people want to be working, but we are experiencing some of the worst ice conditions we’ve seen in recent memory,” he said.
Trudy Byrne, a plant worker on the Northern Peninsula, says the plant began operations in April last year. Now into June, the situation is grim.
“Families are in dire straits,” she said. “I’m receiving calls from lots of individuals begging for work or information on what can be done. Once boats can even get out, it doesn’t look like we’ll be close to having enough hours this season to qualify for EI this fall since the crab season is so short.”
Byrne said some harvesters are taking the risk to go fishing. They are damaging their boats and risking their lives in doing so, she said.
“That’s how desperate things have become, and it’s not right,” she said. “There should be support from the government in times like these, where people are desperate to be working but are unable due to no fault of their own.”
In 2007, the federal government set aside $7.9 million for a special income bridging program in areas affected by the heavy ice conditions that spring. Similar programs were implemented in 1974 and 1990, when unusually heavy ice conditions caused a delay in the start-up of the fishery.
Union representatives say they are in regular communication with federal and provincial officials, but encourage people to continue contacting their members of Parliament.