By Brenna Owen/The Canadian Press
DARTMOUTH, N.S. — The federal government will soon start taking applications for funding to help the Canadian fish and seafood sector cope with the impacts of COVID-19.
The pandemic has been a financial strain for small- and medium-sized enterprises in the sector, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said in a news release on Wednesday.
In response, Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said boosting Canada’s domestic seafood market is the focus of two funding programs.
“Obviously, fish and seafood in Canada is primarily an export market, but we knew that was going to change significantly with COVID-19,” she said in an interview.
Demand in Asian markets started dropping in January, followed by reductions in business from cruise ships and restaurants, Jordan said, adding it’s taking a long time for sales to rebound.
Given those challenges, Jordan said Canadians should consider the importance of the seafood industry when buying food.
“You’re supporting local, coastal communities and independent fishermen in a lot of cases.”
Funds to assist safety, increase capacity
The $62.5 million Canadian Seafood Stabilization Fund aims to help seafood processing companies put necessary health and safety measures in place, while increasing capacity to store, package and distribute more seafood at home.
“For example, on the west coast, we’ve heard about an oyster company that was always a fresh market company who now wants to do smoked oysters because that’s been more of a domestic product,” said Jordan.
First announced in April, the fund is open to applications on Monday, with more than $38 million earmarked for processors in Atlantic Canada, $9 million for Western Canada and $9 million for Quebec.
Fisheries and Oceans said the money was distributed based on the value of the seafood industry in each region and the funds will flow through regional economic development agencies.
“They’re the experts when it comes to making sure the money flows fast,” Jordan said.
Roger Pacquette, owner of Hub City Fisheries in Nanaimo, B.C., estimated international business is down 60 to 70 per cent because of the pandemic.
Hub City needs equipment that would improve the marketability of its seafood for both domestic and international consumers, he said. People want seafood that’s ready to cook and eat, he said, and processors need support to retool their facilities.
Support needs predate COVID-19
The need for support predates the pandemic, said Pacquette, whose company processes an assortment of seafood including salmon, rockfish and shrimp.
A single piece of equipment can cost as much as $300,000, and Hub City is only one plant among hundreds in Canada, he added.
“You take two or three pieces of equipment, you know, that’s $700,000 or a million dollars right there on equipment for one plant.”
Pacquette said $62.5 million isn’t nearly enough to support the needs of processors across the country, particularly in the West, where he’s seen fisheries and seafood products decrease in value.
Meanwhile, the $42.85 million Canadian Fish and Seafood Opportunities Fund is open to non-profit organizations engaged in marketing and promotional activities related to the fish and seafood sector. That includes branding strategies, advertising and market research.
The cost-sharing program between the federal, provincial and territorial governments was first launched in 2018 with the goal of helping the sector reach new international markets.
Given the impacts of COVID-19 on international trade, Jordan said the fund is expanding to help promote Canadian seafood at home too.
Applicants may now submit an expression of interest to the program on a rolling basis.
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