Fishing vessels near Bella Coola await the start of the season. Angie Mindus file photo

B.C. fish harvesters receive long-awaited details on pandemic benefits

Applications to the $470-million federal assistance programs will open Aug. 24

The federal government has released details on nearly $470-million in financial aid programs announced last May for Canadian fishers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applications for the Fish Harvester Benefit program and Fish Harvester Grant Programs will be available online from Aug. 24 to Sept. 1. Eligible recipients will receive their first benefits payment within five business days.

The Fish Harvester Benefit, structured similarly to the federal wage subsidy, offers income support covering 75 per cent of losses for harvesters who see their income drop by at least 25 per cent this year. The maximum benefit is $10,164. The program is open to self-employed commercial fish harvesters and fresh water harvesters, designated Indigenous harvesters operating under a communal commercial fishing licence, and sharepersons crew.

READ MORE: Committee recommendations a win for independent fishers

The Fish Harvester Grant is a sector-specific grant similar to the Canada Emergency Business Account, offering up to $10,000 of non-repayable support to the same group of self-employed harvesters. Sharepersons crew are ineligible for the grant program.

Touted as the single largest investment in the fisheries in two decades, the programs were designed to work with the unique pay structures and seasonal nature of the sector.

A spokesperson for Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said the benefits formula accounts for key concerns heard from B.C.’s salmon harvesters whose earnings last year were deeply impacted by low runs.

“Instead of saying you have to use last year’s earnings to determine your grant [amount], we’re saying you can go back to 2018 if that was a better year for you,” the spokesperson said.

READ MORE: Ottawa announces $469M for fish harvesters with sector-specific grant, benefit

While the sector applauded the announcement of the programs in May, some have been critical of the government for the long delay in rolling out the details.

The ministry defended the wait as necessary since the program was built from the ground up.

“Our fisheries operate under a unique structure and have faced distinct challenges throughout this pandemic. That’s exactly why we created the Fish Harvester Benefit and Grant Program – to meet those needs head-on,” said Jordan. “We’ve been working around the clock to develop a simple, accessible system to deliver over $469 million to Canada’s fish harvesters as smoothly and quickly as possible. That’s why it was important for us to announce this in advance of August 24, to ensure applicants have time to prepare.”

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