Nfld. & Labrador

Prepared for petrol spill: Fogo Island fish harvesters trained to deploy oil boom

A group of fish harvesters on Fogo Island now have the skills to respond to an ocean oil spill.

Shorefast Foundation offers training opportunity for local fish harvesters

Fogo Island fish harvesters deploy a boom during a simulated oil spill in Seldom. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

A group of fish harvesters on Fogo Island is now trained to deploy an oil containment boom if a spill were to happen in local fishing areas.

The harvesters practiced deploying and recovering a containment boom by the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland.

"A lot of fisherman are not big on academics and courses," said Glen Best, a local fisherman.

"But this is something they can enjoy because it's hands on, applies to them and they can use it. It can be a real benefit."

Best and the other fish harvesters started the day with a classroom session and wrapped up on the water in Seldom harbour, deploying the orange boom and its yellow anchors beside a wharf.

"We have a long coastline, lots of isolated, rural communities and resources are not always available for a spill."

"It's in our best interest to be trained and have this equipment and to be able to take care of the problem when it arises," said Best. 

Glen Best lives on Fogo Island and was one of ten fish harvesters to take the oil spill response training course. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"Most of these people are fishers and they have their own boats, and they're potential polluters, I guess," said Bruce English, a senior officer with the Coast Guard's environmental response team. 

"It certainly does give a warm feeling that there's someone trained here on the island."

English said the people trained now have the skills to respond immediately to an oil spill on the ocean.

'Do it ourselves' attitude

The Shorefast Foundation organized the training for local fish harvesters, which started with a course in 2014. It's part of The New Oceans Ethic Project, led by Chairman Gordon Slade. 

"There's always this feeling that we have to go to government, and get the government to take the leadership and do it," said Slade.

"We're not saying that here. We're saying we're doing some things here and the government will help."

Shorefast Foundation Chairman Gordon Slade said the oil spill training for fish harvesters on Fogo Island shows the sense of ownership the community has for local resources. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Slade said it shows the sense of ownership Fogo Islanders have for their local resources and ensuring stability. 

"Well we do have to do it ourselves," he said.

"We've depended more or less since confederation on someone looking over our shoulder. You know, there has to be the regulator looking over our shoulder. But really, when you think about it, we should be the custodians."

When you think about it, we should be the custodians.- Gordon Slade

Slade said the training pairs nicely with the federal government's recent announcements related to ocean protection, which includes a push for new 'polluter pays' legislation for shipwrecks like the Manolis L.

This training means fish harvesters have the skills to respond if the Manolis L started to leak, but the coast guard remains the primary response team for oil spills.