P.E.I. shellfishermen say private docks interfere with livelihood

Fishermen who harvest wild shellfish say an increase in docks has made it tough to harvest in places and made it more dangerous to be out on the water.

'Every time a new dock comes in, there's a risk'

George Dowdle is a aquaculturist and wild fisherman who works on the Southwest River. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Fishermen who harvest wild shellfish say an increase in docks has made it tough to harvest in places and made it more dangerous to be out on the water. 

George Dowdle says private docks are interfering with those who harvest wild shellfish and fish other species in P.E.I.

He is frustrated with the increase in docks around his fishing area on the Southwest River, but said it's a problem in many different waterways.

"People are trying to make a living and sometimes their pleasure costs other people a significant amount of money," Dowdle said. 

Dowdle said when a dock is installed over a live clam bed or oyster bed it interferes with fishing. 'It's taking away from our living,' he said, adding that they also pose a navigation hazard. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"For the last number of years there's been more and more docks go in," he said. 

He said the docks can not only be tough to navigate a boat around, but they also can end up right overtop a live clam or oyster bed. 

"It's taking away from our living," he said.

Shellfish Association hearing complaints

Bob MacLeod, president of the P.E.I. Shellfish Association, said he's heard complaints from fishermen about their areas being affected. He said about 500 fishermen make their living in this way in P.E.I. 

"There's should be some regulations put in place so everybody can get along," he said. 

He said soft shell clam beds have been damaged by machines used to put docks in and he believes many docks are over oyster beds. 

MacLeod also said the docks and ropes used with them can be a hazard.

"I think education will go a long way," he said.

A risk and hazard

Dowdle said there's a lack of regulations and respect for those working out on the water. He fishes oysters, clams, green eel and smelts in the wild fishery, along with oysters and clams in aquaculture.

He said just because someone owns shorefront property, it doesn't mean they should automatically be allowed to put a dock out. He also said sometimes dock owners are leaving large unmarked cement anchors out after the docks are brought in for the season, which boats can run into. 

It's a constant run-around. No one wants to take responsibility or accountability.— George Dowdle

Dowdle hit one last fall, after a dock was taken in. 

"It almost took the lower unit right off my outboard," he said. "It was a half barrel of cement that was only about six inches below the water line," he said. 

Dowdle said the docks also push fishing further out as they pose a greater risk of contamination.

"Every time a new dock comes in there's a risk," Dowdle said. 

'Let's get it sorted out'

Local MP Wayne Easter wrote to various federal and provincial officials to voice his concern over the docks.

"The aquaculture fishermen and oyster fishermen are worried about their livelihoods," Easter told CBC News.

Man in suit standing in front of river
'Docks have been appearing like weeds in spring, and there appears to be no regulation around it,' said MP Wayne Easter, who has written to provincial and federal officials about the concerns. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"Transport Canada has responsibility for anchorage. DFO has some responsibility," he said. "Let's get it sorted out so everybody knows where they stand."

Easter said he wants to protect fishermen, recreational boaters and land owners, and he hopes to organize a meeting in the near future to figure out a solution. 

Dowdle said he's asked several federal departments for help to get answers, but hasn't had much luck over many years of asking. 

He said the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Department of Transportation should be more involved. 

"It's a constant run-around. No one wants to take responsibility or accountability," Dowdle said.

In an emailed response to CBC News, Transport Canada said the Southwest River does not come under its jurisdiction, but part of the river is considered to be Atlantic Ocean, which does. The docks and wharves in that part of the river may require approval.

Transport Canada said it would conduct inspections along the Southwest River under the Navigation Protection Program to assess any impacts on navigation, after inter-provincial COVID travel restrictions ease.

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