Seafood processing industry seeking more foreign workers

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Insist time's running short for policy changes

By Erin McCarthy

  PEI - The P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association is seeking immediate changes to the federal government’s temporary foreign worker policy.

Eric McCarthy/Journal Pioneer - Ricky Aylward, left and Brian McInnis help load Lee Doyle's lobster boat at Miminegash Tuesday morning, setting day, as a beehive of activity continues around them. Boats were returning to port and reloading after setting their first load of traps.

The PEIFA expressed fears Tuesday that fish harvesters and processors will be negatively impacted this year if fish plants are not adequately staffed.

“We’re only three months from the start of the season,” PEIFA executive director, Ian MacPherson, said in pointing out the importance of moving forward on the temporary foreign worker file immediately.

He stressed that plants have documented a shortage of available workers and said the current policy calls for a further 10 per cent reduction in foreign workers this year.

The issue needs to be rectified soon in order for plants to bring in enough workers to be fully staffed for the start of the processing season, he said.

“Time is extremely of the essence,” expressed Dennis King, executive director of the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association. He said, “despite incredible and aggressive recruitment” P.E.I. processors were about 400 jobs below minimum capacity last year and could fall further behind this year if another reduction in temporary foreign workers happens.

Both King and the PEIFA acknowledged strong comments by Egmont MP Bobby Morrissey in pushing for solutions as being helpful to their cause.

King said the Maritime Seafood Council recently attended a meeting with the chair of the Maritime Liberal caucus, Bernadette Jordan, and found her to be sympathetic to their position.

His understanding is that the consensus of the Liberal caucus is for changes to be made immediately.

MacPherson pointed to a rebounding in prices to harvesters over the past two years, but worried what might happen if a staffing shortage prevents plants from capitalizing on value-added opportunities.

The seasonality of many fisheries makes these staffing issues an international challenge, MacPherson said.

He noted that all major countries that process seafood products depend on temporary outside labour to make their seafood industries profitable, and the United States has just increased their number of temporary foreign workers.

“The biggest issue we’re facing, is we need those changes done three months ago so that this season isn’t impacted negatively,” King said.

“As each day passes, it’s cause for greater concern as the spring approaches, and it’s approaching quickly.”

Organizations: P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association, Maritime Seafood Council, Maritime Liberal

Geographic location: United States

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