Digital divide

Libraries come to the rescue to help P.E.I. shellfishers apply for licences online

Rightly or wrongly, fishers do not have a reputation of being the most technologically savvy people in the business world. “There’s not much need for a computer on a dory,” jokes Brenda Campbell, president of the Prince Edward Island Shellfish Association.

But the times are indeed a-changing. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada now requires fishers to use a national online system to apply for a licence to harvest shellfish in P.E.I. Previously, shellfishers could fill out an application in person at a DFO office.

However, change isn’t always embraced and early this past winter Campbell says the DFO informed her that as of Dec. 31, 2013, only 400 fishers in P.E.I., New Brunswick and Nova Scotia had registered for licences online. Campbell says P.E.I. alone has 1,275 coastal fishers.

So with the spring shellfish season quickly approaching (it runs from May 1 to July 15), the Association decided it had to do something to help its membership navigate the Internet age. The solution it hit upon was to use P.E.I.’s public libraries and their staff to lend the fishers a helping hand.

With the assistance of P.E.I.’s department of Tourism and Culture, which operates all 26 public libraries in the province, library staff were made available to help shellfishers apply online. The staff would guide applicants to the proper web page and help them fill out the correct form.

As this magazine went to press, Campbell says the system was working out fairly well for her computer-shy membership. “It’s not a complicated process, but there is a fear of the unknown,” she says of some shellfishers’ aversion to applying for licences online. “But it is 2014 and we have to expect these changes. We just had to figure out how to make it more accessible.”

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