The Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board, which provides funding for fish harvesters, aquaculture facilities and boat builders, has seen an uptick in the number of new entrants into the fisheries, with an increase in applicants 35 years and younger.
With the median age of harvesters in Nova Scotia at 47.7 years old, according to the government of Nova Scotia, it is no secret that the province, much like other blue economies, is facing the reality of the “greying of the fleet,” with more harvesters aging out of their careers than there is young blood entering the industry.
Currently, about 26 per cent of harvesters are under 35, with the other 74 per cent making up harvesters 35 to over 65. 11 per cent of N.S. harvesters alone are over the age of 65.
With more and more harvesters approaching the age of retirement, the loan board has seen an increased number of new applicants to the fishery, according to acting chair Nathan Boudreau.
In 2022-2023, the loan board approved 147 loan applications, with 43 per cent of applicants being under age 35.
“I’m guessing 30 to 40 per cent of the loans we’re looking at are new entrants right now,” said Boudreau. “New entrants have probably doubled in the last five years, for sure. A lot of the guys are new entrants, and I’ve seen some that are 50 or older new entrants and I’ve seen some 20-year-old new entrants, so the range is big.”
The application for those looking for a loan to buy a fishing enterprise is relatively straightforward, and not unlike applying for a mortgage. Applicants will fill out a four to five-page form with basic information, including income, assets, liabilities and a three to five-year business plan. A five per cent minimum down payment is required for loans to would-be first-time license holders, which would equal a $50,000 deposit on a million-dollar license and vessel loan.
“It’s a pretty detailed review that our loans officer makes and that goes back into a formal review by a manager at the loan board,” said Boudreau. “There’s no real fixed number on a cap, so it depends on the license you’re looking for and what area you might be looking to buy it in. You supply the information and then we take a look at it and just make sure it makes sense for the area.”
The loan board seeks to ensure that the cash needed for a down payment is from independent means and seeks to discourage harvesters from being funded by buyers in the province.
“We don’t want you to be locked in. We want you to be independent of the industry and not have to answer to anybody,” said Boudreau.
In terms of loan repayment, the N.S. Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board charges around a 5.5-6.0 per cent interest rate on payments. Loan terms can be between 10-20 years at a locked-in or variable rate, with payments usually being made after a fishing season.
“A lobster season in Southwest Nova is six months and some of those guys make two payments per year,” said Boudreau. “But where I’m at, in Cape Breton, it’s a two-month season. So, usually, the season ends on June 30 and in July they’ll make their payment, so once a year.”
Having a stake in the fisheries can come with unexpected setbacks, such as inclement weather damaging vessels or wharves. According to Boudreau, the loan board tries to be understanding of these unexpected events and tries its best to work with borrowers.
“When there’s issues — Fiona was an issue, the wildfires were an issue — we have guys in place that identify issues for harbours and call us to say, ‘The fires could have affected guys and their gear and their wharf,’” said Boudreau.
“So, we’ll send out letters or calls to guys in that general harbour and the area to say if you have an issue and need additional funding or you have to delay a payment, give us a call and we’ll discuss further. We don’t want to see them suffering needlessly.”
Further information about applying for funding through the Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board can be found at nsfishloan.ca