There’s no handle yet on numbers, but inshore harvesters around the province have received letters from Fisheries and Oceans informing them they owe thousands of dollars in overpayments from the Fish Harvester Benefit and Grant Program, which provided financial support during the pandemic. Only questions about overpayments, the appeal process, and tax implications are not being answered.
DFO's $470-million Fish Harvester Benefit and Grant Program was announced by the Prime Minister in May 2020. Applicants had to show earnings from the 2018 or 2019 season, and prove they suffered at least a 25% loss during the pandemic season.
The benefit portion of the program covered 75% of income losses compared to past years, with qualifying harvesters receiving up to $10,164.
Harvesters qualifying for the grant were also eligible for up to $10,000 in a one-time lump sum that didn't need to be paid back.
DFO NOT TAKING QUESTIONS
SEA-NL has been contacted in recent weeks by a growing number of harvesters who received overpayment notices.
Some were not informed exactly why they owe the amounts, or aware of an appeal process.
Others say they had contacted the office of their federal Member of Parliament and thought the issue had been dealt with.
Still more say DFO made a clear mistake in their case, but they're having a hard time getting through to anyone.
Tax implications alone could impact multi-year returns.
When contacted by SEA-NL, the department referred questions about the benefit and grant program to this email address: DFO.FHBGP-PPSP.MPO@dfo-mpo.gc.ca
(SEA-NL sent an email on Feb. 15th, but still no response.)
DFO referred questions on specific cases to Service Canada.
That's not usually how things are done.
In fact, federal employees I've spoken with complain the appeal process was not clear, via email only, and that DFO/Service Canada officials did not speak with people directly.
That's disrespectful to the inshore harvesters that the federal government is meant to serve.
Communication around this program has been ridiculous, the worst I've encountered in my years dealing with DFO, and the Minister should order a review of the program, and assign front-end staff to deal with the concerns of harvesters.
Make no mistake, that message will get through to DFO.
Ryan Cleary, Executive Director, SEA-NL Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization serving as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. Reach me at email@example.com. Visit sea-nl.ca to join or register for the Feb. 25th AGM in Gander.