CHARLOTTETOWN -- The P.E.I. government is expanding its low-interest loan program to include Island fishermen from all three lobster fishing areas.
The province reopened the program last summer to fishermen from Lobster Fishing Areas (LFAs) 24 and 26A. On Wednesday the provincial government announced that western P.E.I. fishermen from LFA 25 can now apply, too.
The program for LFA 25, the fall fishery, expired last year but has been reinstated due to the continued low prices for lobster. Fall fishermen last year received $2.50 a pound for their canners and $2.75 for their markets for the first half of their season – the same as they were paid in 2012 - and a quarter more a pound for the rest of the 2013 season. Spring fishermen last year received $2.75 and $3.25 a pound for their canner and market catches in 2013. They had received $4.25 and $4.50 a pound in 2012.
“By extending the program to LFA 25, we are making sure all Island fishers have the chance to take part in this program,” said Innovation and Advanced Learning Minister Allen Roach. “This program is an indication of our belief in this industry as a major pillar of our Island economy,” Roach added.
The program assists fishermen experiencing financial difficulties due to rising costs, low landings in some areas and low shore prices for lobsters.
In addition to reopening the low interest loan program, the Province is extending the four per cent interest rate from six years to seven years.
Fishermen from the three LFAs have until June 30 to apply for the low interest loan.
Landings in the three LFAs were up again in 2013, reaching 16,810,500 pounds in LFA 24 (up form 16,183508 the year before), 7,181,717 in LFA 26A and 4,776,600 in the fall fishery (4,596,440 in 2012).
Despite the increased landings in 2013, the landed value dropped by more than $22 million from 2012 to 2013. Based on the number of active fishermen in each of the LFAs, LFA 24 fishermen averaged 26,431 pounds per boat in 2013, compared with 19,202 pounds per boat in LFA 26A and 22,011 pounds per vessel in the fall fishery.
Lee Knox, president of the Prince County Fishermen’s Association, the group representing the Island’s fall lobster fishermen, said his members appreciate the renewal of the program and proposed further assistance that would help all lobster fishermen. He suggested a little extra tax relief for fuel consumed during fishing season would be beneficial.
The Fishers Low Interest Loan Program is a joint initiative of Finance
PEI and the Department of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Rural Development.
Fisheries minister Ron MacKinley said his department is working closely with industry to implement key recommendations from recent lobster reports to help achieve a more stable fishery. In the meantime, he said expanding the low interest loan program will provide immediate relief for fishermen facing financial hardship as a result of the low prices in 2013.