Ottawa will provide a $62.5-million aid package to help the country's fish and seafood processors protect workers from COVID-19 and ensure they can continue to keep the seafood market alive.
The money is earmarked for personal protective equipment and to help fish and seafood companies adapt their plants to comply with health directives, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during his daily press conference in front of his home on Saturday.
Processing companies can also use the money to help pay for equipment such as freezers, so they can store food products while they adapt their factories to ensure workers can maintain a safe distance from one another, Trudeau added.
"As we fight COVID-19, people who work in fish and seafood processing plants across the country are playing a crucial role when it comes to putting food on our tables," he said.
"This funding will help ensure that they can continue their important work."
Fish and seafood are among the country's top food exports and the industry employs roughly 72,000 people.
Industry representatives in the Maritimes have raised concerns about the loss of key markets for their processed seafood, notably cruise ships and restaurants, and the need to increase storage capacity so they can continue to buy from fishers and hold onto their processed products until the markets reopen.
Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan says she has heard these concerns from fishers and seafood processors, which is why a priority was placed on fish processing needs in advance of more direct help for fishers, which she promised would be coming.
"Without the ability to move goods efficiently and effectively, processors can't buy more from our harvesters, and in turn, they can't supply Canadians with seafood," she said.
"We know that there has been some challenges (among harvesters) actually accessing the funds that have already been announced. We're continuing to look at all these things that need to be done and will be continuing to follow up with new measures as we go forward."
The Fisheries Council of Canada and the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance welcomed the assistance Saturday, saying it is critical to ensuring the continued operations of the sector as it adjusts to the latest public health guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It has been the top priority of our members to ensure the health and safety of our frontline employees while we continue to provide the essential service of supporting the food supply chain," Fisheries Council president Paul Lansbergen said in a statement.
"Many additional measures have been put in place to respond to social distancing mandates and market disruptions, which have come with significant costs."
Jordan says the money announced Saturday will not only support the seafood processing industry to increase cold storage and inventory capacity, but will also allow them to re-tool their technologies and marketing efforts to meet the shifts in consumer demands and create value-added products.
It will also help processing companies put in place enhanced health and safety measures to minimize the risks to workers.
COVID-19 infections are disrupting other parts of the country's food sector, including the meat processing industry.
Cargill shut down its plant just north of High River, Alta., earlier this week after an outbreak of COVID-19 and the death of one employee.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2020
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press