Chatham-Kent fishing companies get help to stay afloat

(BlackburnNews.com file photo)

Four fish and seafood processing companies in Chatham-Kent are getting a financial boost to help them get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal government announced $1.5 million in funding on Wednesday morning to cover fixed operating expenses, including COVID-19 safety measures, utilities, insurance, and employee wages. The companies will be able to buy personal protective equipment for employees, and retrofit shared work spaces to comply with social distancing measures. They will also be able to focus on retaining their skilled workers and attracting new employees.

The Government of Canada said the fish and seafood processing sector has been hit hard by COVID-19 and it is supporting the processors in the world’s largest freshwater commercial fishing port and one of Ontario’s key fish and seafood processing regions to ensure their future viability.

A&A Marine Foods in Blenheim is receiving $500,000. It temporarily closed its 30 employee operation when the pandemic hit. Great Lakes Food Company in Chatham is getting $362,000. The company employs 38 workers and is experiencing a decrease in demand from its largest clients, including buffets, bars, and restaurants in the United States and Japan. John O’s Foods Inc. in Wheatley, where 70 people are employed, is receiving $195,000 because its revenues have been significantly affected by COVID-19. Presteve Foods Limited in Wheatley is getting $400,000 because sales are down 66 per cent due to reduced demand from the restaurant industry. Presteve has 138 workers and was forced to temporarily shut down production for one month at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Canada’s fish and seafood sector employs thousands of hard-working women and men and plays a critical role in our economy and increases our food security. With FedDev Ontario’s investment, we are ensuring that four important fish- and seafood-processors in the Chatham–Kent area are well equipped to comply with COVID-19 safety measures, retain and attract skilled employees and get through this pandemic, emerging stronger than ever before,” said Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk, who made the announcement on behalf of Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly.

According to the federal government, the Lake Erie fish and seafood processing sector accounts for over 80 per cent of all commercial fishing in Ontario and has close to 800 direct and indirect jobs, with an economic impact of over $194 million.