N.B. seafood plants scrambling to find workers, prepare for lobster season
CAP-PELE, N.B. -- With the lobster season set to open in northeastern New Brunswick in two weeks, the question is, will there be anyone to process the catch?
Earlier this week, Premier Blaine Higgs announced a ban on temporary foreign workers.
Now, two plants in Cap-Pele are looking for hundreds of workers.
There are some workers filing into one fish plant in to process the catch of snow crab.
Many more however are needed as the lucrative lobster season is set to get underway. Temporary foreign workers typically make up about half of that workforce.
"This decision was regrettable, it was a surprise," said Nat Richard, the Cape Bald Packers corporate affairs manager. "I have no hesitation in saying that we'd be looking for at least 100 additional workers."
The same number of workers is needed at another plant, too.
Most of the workforce has been coming here for years and are well trained in the plant's operations.
On Thursday, Premier Higgs seemed to be leaving the door open to the possibility of temporary foreign workers on a case-by-case basis, if the jobs cannot be filled locally
"We'll look at how we can fill it with a temporary foreign worker, but first and foremost, how do we do it in a way that minimizes any risk that that we would take on health concerns," Higgs said.
The lobster season was scheduled to open Friday in northeastern New Brunswick, but was delayed to May 15 to give processing plants time to install health and safety measures in their facilities.
"Providing protective equipment, in some cases shields and masks, physical separators, barriers where appropriate," said Richard. "We're doing twice daily temperature readings of all of our workers, we've staggered our break and lunch schedules. I really do believe there is a way to find a balancing act here."
And if they can't, the entire community will be affected.
"Cape Bald Packers and Westmorland Fisheries here in Cap-Pele are very big economic engines," said Justin Leblanc, Cap-Pele' communications director."Without them, it will be a domino effect if they can't operate as usual."
Given the uncertainty around the global markets because of COVID-19, most processers were planning on producing less product, but without workers, processing any will be a challenge.
As Higgs was announcing the ban on temporary foreign workers, a plane was en route from Toronto to Mexico City to Halifax to pick up 209 workers -- some heading to plants in Nova Scotia while the rest were supposed to be coming to New Brunswick.
The New Brunswick-bound workers did not get on the plane, however.