Northern Cape Breton snow crab fishers, processors adjust to COVID-19 restrictions

Snow crab fishers and processors in northern Cape Breton are taking steps to carry out their work safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dave Donovan is a snow crab fisherman who hails from New Haven, N.S.

He said boats have been equipped with more personal protective equipment and deckhands are encouraged to physically distance when possible.

When boats return to the dock, new safety measures keep fishers separated from plant workers.

“The co-op would normally unload our boats. That has changed this year,” Donovan said. “They don’t want us to intermingle with the workers. We don’t want that either.”

Fish plant changes

Osborne Burke is the general manager of Victoria Co-operative Fisheries in Neils Harbour, N.S.

He said anyone entering the facility must have their temperature checked daily. There are also new plastic barriers in place while processing takes place.

“We are exempt from social distancing, but we’re still practising it wherever we can,” Burke said.

Another big change in Neils Harbour includes the workforce.

In recent years, a large contingency of temporary foreign workers would work at the plant.

Temporary foreign workers

Burke said as recently as last year, the plant brought in about 12 temporary foreign workers.

“We have invested a lot into temporary foreign workers, upwards of $25,000, but then we declined [this year],” he said.

As travel restrictions were put in place, Burke said it became more complicated to book flights and get the workers to Nova Scotia, so they found new workers within the province.

They looked to students at Cape Breton University in Sydney. Burke said around 12 international students worked for the plant last year, and this year it’s going to be about 35.

Poor demand

Many locals still work at the plant, but students proved to be an excellent pool of temporary workers at busy times.

Burke and Donovan say it’s been tough adapting to the restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but they’re managing. 

Donovan said one other challenge is too much product and not enough demand.

“You have poor seasons and good seasons,” he said. “This one’s going to be bad, basically just making enough to pay wages, no profits.”


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