Nova Scotia

Harbour authorities concerned about condition of wharves in southwest N.S.

Harbour authorities in southwestern Nova Scotia say some federally owned wharves in the area are in urgent need of repair or replacement.

Severe storms this past winter made the situation worse

A fisherman struggles to secure his boat at a wharf in Bear Point, Shelburne County, during a storm. (Shelly Hipson/Facebook)

Harbour authorities in southwestern Nova Scotia are raising the alarm about the state of federally owned wharves in the area, saying that some wharves are in urgent need of repair or replacement.

There are 181 wharves in Nova Scotia that are maintained by Small Craft Harbours, a division of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and managed by volunteer harbour authorities.

Shelly Hipson manages the Harbour Authority in Lower Sandy Point, N.S., and Ingomar, and said a number of wharves are almost unusable.

"[In] Little Harbour, for example, they are not allowed to put fuel trucks on the wharf because of the condition. In Ingomar … trucks have to go around certain areas," she said.

"We contribute substantially to the economic benefit of Nova Scotia … yet we're dealing with infrastructure that's 50, 60, 70 years old. It's failing us, it's failing our communities and I feel there needs to be somebody [to] sit down and come up with some solutions here."

Awaiting a 'perfect storm'

Hipson said larger fishing boats, as well as more severe storms, have put strain on wharves that in some places date back to the 1950s. 

She said the situation has become so stressful that she plans on retiring at the end of the month, as she's no longer comfortable with the system in place for maintaining wharves.

"I'm not feeling comfortable with Small Craft Harbours and their funding formula. I'm not feeling comfortable with going to my MP.… I've done that, the fishermen have done that. We've done those complaints, it seems to be falling on deaf ears, and I'm really nervous. It's going to be that perfect storm that can absolutely take out an entire industry."

The federally owned wharf at Gunning Cove was underwater after a severe storm in January. (Shelly Hipson/Facebook)

Dick Crowell, who manages the Harbour Authority of Cape Sable Island, said some of the wharves on the island are in a state of "advanced disrepair," and it's not clear what the future holds. 

"We try to find out what DFO or Small Craft Harbours are intending, or if they have a plan, and that has never been communicated to us, and we are really getting concerned now. It's becoming very serious."

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in an emailed statement that the department works with harbour authorities to make sure harbours critical to the fishing industry remain in good repair.

The statement also said the federal government is investing $250 million over two years to renew its network of small craft harbours, and that Small Craft Harbours will work with harbour authorities, including those from Lower Sandy Point and Cape Sable Island, to discuss their concerns. 

Tying the wharf together

For Wayne Smith, who's been a fisherman in Lobster Fishing Area 34 on the eastern side of Cape Sable Island since 1976, the main concern is that without repairs to the three wharves in his area, he could be left with nowhere to go.

Smith said this past winter, severe storms had water topping the wharves as fishermen struggled to tend to the lines that fastened their boats. 

At one point, they had to tie down the spiles — wooden posts driven into the concrete body of the wharf — that are used to secure ropes. 

The government wharf at Seal Point in Shelburne County has rotten boards. (Shelly Hipson/Facebook)

"We actually had our wharf tied together, the spiles from one side were pulling one way off, and the spiles from the other side were pulling the other way off, so we took big straps and ropes and tied the spiles together so they wouldn't haul off."

He said for fishermen on the eastern side of Cape Sable Island, there's no alternative if the wharves fail. 

"I don't know where you'd tie a boat up.… There's nowhere else for the fleet to go. The infrastructure just isn't there."