Fishing industry benefits from wet summer months
Higher water levels have made fishing easier and Wheatley Harbour safer
Fishermen in southern Ontario are reaping the benefits of one of the wettest summers on record.
Wheatley Harbour manager Al Matthews says, overall, the water level of Lake Erie has "dropped significantly."
The harbour was forced to dredge its channel in the spring because of what Matthews called "severe low water levels."
"I would say in the last four years, it’s dropped significantly," Matthews said of Lake Erie's water level.
However, the region is coming off some of the wettest summer months on record.
"Because of spring rain and runoff it’s pretty stable right now," Matthews said.
More than 150 mm of rain fell in June. Normal rainfall is 89 mm during the month. Environment Canada says June 2013 was the wettest on record since 2008.
Last month, 262 mm rain fell in the region in July, making it the wettest month since 1969, Environment Canada meteorologist Geoff Coulson said.
Low water woes
But that's not always the case.
"It’s been very, very low for the past five or six years," said fisherman Claudio Adronia who co-owns Four Brothers Fishing Co.
Low water levels mean the boats can’t get close enough to reefs where fish spawn and fisherman make their biggest catches.
Wheatley is the single largest freshwater commercial fishery in the world. Last year, fisherman brought 6.7 million pounds of fish ashore there. Its landed value, the price paid to fishermen, was $9 million.
But as big as the harbour's annual haul is, it has a tiny channel for entering and leaving.
"It’s been extremely terrible getting in and out of the harbour," Matthews said.
"If you drift to the west or drift to the east too much, you’ll be running around. You’ll come right to a dead stop, quickly," Adronia added. "If you’re running at a fast speed, you can damage your boat and it’s a safety factor. None of us wear seat belts."
The shallower the water, the more narrow the channel becomes. And when it's windy, especially when the wind comes from the northeast, the channel fills with sand and sediment.
"If we get three days of a northeast wind, it will fill that channel in [with sand]," Matthews said. "It could be an environmental disaster. If they come down hard on the sand, it could split a [hull’s] seam and fuel could spill into the lake."
The federal government is responsible for keeping the route from the harbour to Lake Erie clear. It has agreed to be on site to dredge within five days of a complaint.
"Every time things get low we contact them," Matthews said.