4 temporary foreign workers test positive for COVID-19 at Gaspé fish plant, 44 in isolation

·2 min read
With snow crab season underway, a seafood transformer and exporter in the Gaspé is seriously understaffed with four dozen of its temporary foreign workers either testing positive for COVID-19 or in preventive isolation.  (Susan Campbell/CBC - image credit)
With snow crab season underway, a seafood transformer and exporter in the Gaspé is seriously understaffed with four dozen of its temporary foreign workers either testing positive for COVID-19 or in preventive isolation. (Susan Campbell/CBC - image credit)

A seafood transformer and exporter in the Gaspé is scrambling for staff, after several temporary foreign workers contracted COVID-19 and dozens of other employees were put in preventive isolation.

Four of the employees headed to the E. Gagnon et Fils fish plant tested positive for the virus and more than 40 are in isolation, after having travelled with the infected workers from Montreal to the region.

"I don't know what happened," said Bill Sheehan, the vice-president of the seafood transformation and exportation company in Sainte-Thérèse-de-Gaspé.

The crab fishing season started in the region on April 2 and Sheehan said the workers arrived in Montreal two weeks before that to do their 14-day quarantines in the city.

They tested negative before boarding their flights to Canada and again when they arrived in this country, but two people then tested positive during their quarantine.

When the four dozen other workers arrived in the Gaspé, Sheehan said he had to push the regional health authority for a fourth test.

He footed the bill for the extra tests, and two more employees were found to be positive for COVID-19.

Sheehan said he was told by public health that the additional tests weren't necessary, but he's glad he went through with them anyway, because it could have led to a "real mess" had the virus spread in the Gaspé region, which is relatively free of COVID-19 at this time.

Sheehan said he and the workers followed all the rules, down to plexiglass dividers in the bus, and with one asymptomatic employee and another with mild symptoms, both would likely have been able to work.

"Look what happened at the end," he said.

Now, the short two-month snow crab season — during which the fish plant brings in nearly half its annual income — is underway, and he's seriously understaffed.

Sheehan said it would have been impossible for a smaller business to deal with the disruption, especially because of the cost, time, and paperwork involved with bringing in temporary foreign workers in the first place.

Snow crab season on the Gaspé typically requires all hands on deck and Sheehan said temporary foreign workers have become increasingly important for the harvest.

"There's a shortage like everywhere in Quebec, so we need them every year, more and more," he said.

Thankfully, he explained, he was able to bring on some workers from a nearby lobster fishery that hasn't yet started the season. Still, he said, it's not enough, and this will likely have a huge impact on his bottom line.

Gaspé public health refused the CBC's requests for comment.