Nfld. & Labrador

Too dangerous to go fishing due to ice, Coast Guard warns

The Canadian Coast Guard says it's very dangerous on the northeast coast of Newfoundland because of heavy ice that's packed in to bays due to last weekend's storm.

Bays on northeast coast still filled with heavy ice after bad May 24 weekend

On Tuesday five fishing boats were trapped in ice off Lumsden. By early morning the next day they were on their way. (Submitted)

The Canadian Coast guard is telling Newfoundland fishermen not to go fishing because of sea ice that's packed into bays on the northeast coast of the island.

"I would definitely say don't go out," said Trevor Hodgson, superintendent of ice for the Atlantic region. 

"If you're in port, that's the safest place for you to be. If you're out of port, in open water, don't try and get back through that ice pack to get into port. Choose another, alternate route," Hodgson added. 

It's particularly bad now because of the storm that hit the island over the long holiday weekend pushing thick, heavy ice into shore.

Hodgson said he's fearful fishermen are going out not realizing the potential danger.

The Canadian coast guard says it has assisted 29 vessels stuck in ice this year, compared with only three last year. (Submitted)

"It's definitely not something that an icebreaker may be able to assist you through. It's something that you're probably going to get stuck in for a few days," he said.

Hodgson said the dense, heavy, tough ice is similar to what's found in the Arctic. It's been crushed up by the storm and has heavy packed ice underneath it.

"It has dangerous pieces," he added. "It's over a metre thick in some areas."

He adds it's dense due to the pressure from the wind driving it toward land.

"If we're doing escorts, the ice breaker can turn up these pieces of ice that we're talking about and it basically throws them back at the fishing vessels. So it's easy to cause damage to their hulls as well when they're proceeding," Hodgson warned.

Superintendent Trevor Hodgson says the issue now is the persistence of the ice: it's staying longer, it's thicker and it's heavier. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

"The northeast coast is the most dangerous zone right now." Hodgson said, but the ice is also bad in the Strait of Belle Isle, between Labrador and the island.

Anxious to get out

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers union says some harvesters and plant workers haven't earned a paycheque in two months and need to get out on the water.

"The price of crab is good, the highest it's ever been and they're anxious to get fishing this time of year," said Keith Sullivan, FFAW president. "In some places it's impossible, the boats have no chance of moving." 

Keith Sullivan, president of the FFAW, says the federal government should financially help those who can't earn an income because of heavy ice this year. (CBC )

"Time is ticking off the clock, which is already adding to high stress levels so people are extremely anxious to get out," Sullivan said.

He's renewing his union's call for financial assistance from the federal government for harvesters and plant workers to bring in income until the ice abates.

Not your average ice year

The ice centre operates from the coast guard building on the south side of St. John's, taking calls for help from fishing boats, commercial ships and ferries.

"This year we've assisted 29 vessels and last year we only assisted three," said Hodgson.

Sea ice on the northeast coast surrounds the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker George R. Pearkes. (Courtesy of Canadian Coast guard)

It's so busy, in fact, they're planning to bring in an extra icebreaker.

"We're also looking at bringing over the coast guard ship Amundsen from the Quebec region, which is a heavier icebreaker, the same as the Henry Larsen, to assist wherever we're going to need her, either the northeast coast or the straits," said Hodgson.