It would be the understatement of the year, if not the century, to say we now find ourselves in uncertain times.
COVID-19 has turned the entire world on its head and negatively impacted businesses and industries across the globe. And the fishing and seafood processing industries have not been immune to this virus.
COVID-19 had led to market closures for Atlantic Canadian seafood, inventory gluts and unprecedented drops in price for such critical commodities as lobster.
However, one cannot overstate the importance of the fishing industry. It is not only critical, it is essential. Not only does this sector provide billions of dollars to the economy of Atlantic Canada and thousands of jobs, it produces food the world needs right now more than ever. The fishing industry needs to be deemed an essential service.
Government legislators need to ensure that fishing vessel and processing labour must remain accessible and mobile.
As well, the seafood supply chain must remain supported and functioning. After harvest, fish and seafood processing, transportation, cold storage and supply chain services are required to get products to consumers that need them. Careful consideration and planning is required to keep these essential parts of the food supply chain working.
One seafood company stated that “this is not just about allowing people to come to work, in groups larger than five. We have crew on board our vessels that travel interprovincially every trip. People who work at sea must not be considered ‘out of province’ as they deploy.”
And it appears that government is heeding these calls for exemptions.
On March 24, the Nova Scotia government included the fishing industry in an COVID-19 exemption ruling.
“Workers who are essential to the movement of people and goods are exempt from the requirement to self-isolate or self-quarantine, particularly: healthy workers in the trade and transportation sector who are employed in the movement of goods and people across the Nova Scotia border by land, air or water, including truck drivers, crew, maintenance and operational workers on any plane, train or marine vessel crossing the Nova Scotia border, offshore workers off the coast of Nova Scotia and workers in the agri-food and fish industry.”
Other provinces are now also talking similar measures to keep this all-important industry functioning.
Everyone realizes that the challenges facing the fishing and processing industries in Atlantic Canada are unprecedented. Few could ever imagine having to face such an obstacle, not to mention the speed at which this virus has crippled businesses and industries, both foreign and domestic.
For now, legislators are doing the right thing in exempting the fishing industry and adding it to an ever-decreasing list of essential services. Let’s hope it stays that way.
It will only be through continued dialogue and cooperation between industry, regulators and public health authorities that the production of seafood will be maintained and this all-important food supply will continue to find its way to consumers that depend on it.