Self-employed fish harvesters trying to recoup any COVID-19-related losses this fishing season can now apply for financial help from the federal government.
Online applications for two programs, the Fish Harvester Benefit and the Fish Harvester Grant, opened up Monday for four weeks.
The benefit covers 75 per cent of income losses compared to past years, to be able to receive up to $10,164 for qualifying harvesters and their share crew. Harvesters qualifying for the grant can get up to $10,000 in a one-time lump sum that doesn't need to be paid back.
"These are hard times for fishers. We know that. We know that they've seen an extremely challenging season this year with the pandemic, and we wanted to make sure we were there to support them," Bernadette Jordan, the federal minister of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.
Jordan said as harvesters weren't eligible for other federal relief programs, such as the wage subsidy or emergency business account, an entirely new aid program had to be created.
"That's what this is for. It's to make sure they have the support the need to get them through this very difficult time," she said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced the programs in May. Those looking to apply will have to show earnings from the 2018 or 2019 season, and prove they have suffered at least a 25 per cent loss during the pandemic season.
Jordan said having to build the entire relief program from the ground up, across several departments, delayed its rollout.
Included in designing the program were DFO, the Fisheries Council of Canada, the Department of Finance and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, she said.
"All of them had to make sure that we had all of Is dotted and Ts crossed to make sure that we got it right," said Jordan.
"But the important thing, I think, that as of [Monday] when people apply, they can have their benefit within five days, whether it's in their bank account directly or mailed to them."
The program is expected to help up to 28,000 harvesters.
"We know that this year has been tough. We don't want people to suffer. We want to make sure that we have a strong, robust fishing season after we're through the pandemic so we can continue on," Jordan said.
Help for processors
Jordan said help is also in the works for fish processors who are seasonal workers, such as changes to employment insurance benefits made last week that might help them qualify.
The federal government has implemented a one-time credit for workers who haven't accrued the necessary number of hours to qualify for EI. Ottawa will credit 300 hours, meaning workers only need to have worked 120 hours in the last year, to qualify.
"That's going to make it a lot more flexible, a lot more easier for people to get. Knowing that for seasonal workers particularly, they were very concerned that they weren't going to have the time they needed in order to collect EI," she said.
"We made sure that that is something that they don't have to worry about. We want them to know that during this really tough time we've got their back."