I would like to make my statement, please.
Thanks again for the opportunity to speak to the members of this committee.
Today I am again accompanied by many officials, including my deputy minister, Tim Sargent, and Canadian Coast Guard Commissioner Mario Pelletier.
I appreciate the invitation to discuss our government's commitment to help Canada's fish and seafood sector get through these unprecedented and very challenging times. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, we're working hard to protect Canadians, support the harvesters and businesses and ensure families have what they need.
I would like to begin by assuring members that my department remains very much at the forefront of managing Canada's fisheries and protecting the marine environment. As this crisis unfolded, our fishery officers kept up the patrols, surveillance of the North Atlantic right whales continues and, as I indicated in my testimony before you yesterday, the remediation work at Big Bar continues to move without stopping.
Our officials have worked overtime to make sure that stakeholders across the country were being heard. We continue to navigate this crisis together, listening to advice from those who work in the fishery about when to open the various fishing seasons and how to adjust our ways of working to make sure that we continue to support commercial and recreational fishing. DFO officials and harbour authority volunteers have worked hard with provincial and territorial counterparts and other partners to ensure the health and safety of essential workers, fish harvesters and, indeed, all Canadians who use our harbours.
The Coast Guard continues its essential operations and remains hard at work every day, delivering much-needed search and rescue, ice-breaking, maritime security and environmental response.
Today I want to reassure committee members that we continue to provide essential services in our fisheries sector so that those working in our fisheries can expect to receive the support they need to safely continue feeding Canadians.
Back in January, we started to see the kind of impact COVID-19 was having on the global economy, particularly in the seafood sector, with the decline of overseas export markets. Since then, my officials and I have been talking to and working with harvesters, aquaculture producers, processors, indigenous partners, and the provinces and territories about some of the unique pressures that the sector has been facing.
As spring approached, we started to plan amidst an uncertain global market. We knew that in order to stabilize the industry as a whole, we would need to develop programs that would provide financial support to both harvesters and processors.
As you well know, the window of harvesting certain stocks is limited, so products needed to be stored longer and new markets needed to be found.
With export markets declining and domestic food supply becoming more important than ever, the industry will need to respond more to Canadian domestic consumption. With the closure of restaurants across the country, Canadians are instead looking to purchase seafood at the store and from local harvesters.
As you know, our government has delivered economic measures to help individual Canadians and businesses get through the pandemic, through the Canada emergency response benefit, the Canada emergency wage subsidy, the Canada emergency business account and a number of other tax credit measures.
We have also been working around the clock to support the Canadian fish and seafood industry adapt to a new reality, as it is the backbone of many of our coastal communities.
This has ultimately led to a significant $500-million investment to support the hard-working women and men in our fisheries. To deliver these funds, we've created the fish harvester benefit, the fish harvester grant and the Canadian seafood stabilization fund.
The fish harvester benefit will provide self-employed commercial harvesters and sharesperson crew members who cannot access the Canadian wage subsidy with up to $847.00 a week. This includes those in inshore and freshwater fisheries and fishing under indigenous commercial communal licences.
The fish harvester grant will provide a non-repayable grant of up to $10,000 to self-employed commercial harvesters who cannot access the Canada emergency business account. Along with the benefit, these funds can be used to cover the costs of running a fishing business, including increasing costs due to health and safety requirements. We're working to ensure that harvesters can receive these supports this summer.
The $62.5-million Canadian seafood stabilization fund is invested directly into the marine processing sector to help tackle a number of challenges and to help plants adapt to market changes and the new ways of working. Processors on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts can tap into the funds to increase their storage capacity, allowing them to buy more from harvesters and aquaculture operators. The funding can also be used to help with rebranding and marketing efforts, to make changes to manufacturing and automated technologies and to offset the cost of implementing health and safety measures.
While these new programs take into account the unique operational structures of the industry, we know that this season will definitely be a challenge. That's why we're proposing changes to the fish harvester employment insurance system, which will allow harvesters and sharespeople to file EI claims based on previous seasons' earnings. The industry went into this pandemic strong, but we know this year is going to be like unlike anything we've ever seen before.
Tens of thousands of Canadians were counting on this fishing season for employment, revenue and food. By investing over half a billion dollars in the seafood sector, our goal is not only to ensure that workers get the financial support they need right now, but that the industry as a whole is placed in a strong position for recovery.
As we continue to move forward in the face of so much global uncertainty, I am confident that we will continue to serve Canadians under these very difficult circumstances. I am now happy to take your questions.