Malpeque Harbour likely won't be ready for start of lobster season, says DFO

Dredging at Malpeque Harbour, on P.E.I.'s North Shore, will probably not be done in time for the start of lobster season, says the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Setting day for the lobster season is Monday

Ice conditions meant a late start to dredging at Malpeque Harbour. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Dredging at Malpeque Harbour, on P.E.I.'s North Shore, will probably not be done in time for the start of lobster season, says the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Dredging in the Malpeque channel was originally delayed by ice conditions, said DFO in an email to CBC News. When the contractor was able to get into the channel, conditions were found to be worse than expected.

Setting day for the lobster season is Monday. DFO does not think the dredging will be done by then.

Last summer mussel boats got stuck in the channel into Malpeque Harbour.

Ongoing issues

Chris Wall is one of the lobster fishermen hoping to get his traps in the water on Monday. He sits on the Malpeque Harbour Authority board and has fished out of the harbour for 25 years and said the dredging delays are not a new problem.

"Like most springs we're usually frustrated cause the dredging is right to the last minute. This year it looks like it's going to go beyond the last minute," Wall said. 

"A lot of people are apprehensive, looking at the weather they hope we'll be able to get a hole through but it doesn't look good."

Lobster fisherman Chris Wall says sand accumulation in the Malpeque channel has been an ongoing issue and seems to be getting worse over the last few years. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

He said the dredging contractor has been working hard to get the job done, there simply isn't enough time. 

DFO is contacting lobster fishermen operating out of Malpeque Harbour about other harbours they could use. But, Wall said moving boats and equipment isn't as simple as it sounds. All the traps are tagged and organized in a particular order — a process fishermen would have to redo before the traps can go in the water.

Wall says each trap is tagged and organized in a particular order — a process fishermen would have to redo if they moved to a different harbour. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"If you can't sail your boat out of here your boat would have to be trailered out down the road to another harbour, plus then you're leaving on setting day out of a harbour you're not familiar with and that can sometimes lead to problems as well."  

Wall said some fishermen have moved their boats and gear to other harbours to ensure they make it out onto the water for setting day. But most are staying at Malpeque Harbour, hoping it will be open by Monday.

'It's risky'

Wall said sand accumulation in the channel has been a consistent problem over the last several years, but seems to be getting worse.

That's something mussel fisherman, Darryl Ellsworth has noticed too. He said each year the channel seems to be filled with more sand, leaving many who use it feeling anxious about trying to get their boats out.

Darryl Ellsworth has been fishing mussels out of Malpeque Harbour for years and says dredging delays leave many feeling anxious about safely getting their boats out of the harbour. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"It's risky, it's risky for everybody aboard. I carry four people with me usually every time I go out and it's my responsibility for those people and for me to do that is putting them in danger and myself in danger," Ellsworth said.

He said the conditions get worse as the mussel season goes on and by the fall, he and his crew don't even use the harbour due to concerns about their safety.

"We pay harbour fees at another harbour, basically, so we don't have to come in here, it's just, go to a safer spot."

Wall says some fishermen have taken their boats and gear to other harbours to ensure they make it onto the water. But most are staying put here, hoping to see the harbour open on Monday. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

A working group of DFO, the provincial Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Harbour Authority has been established to work on short, medium and long-term solutions for safe passage into Malpeque Harbour. DFO says the group will consider strategies related to access issues for safe passage to and from the harbour.

Access at Hardy's Channel uncertain

Weather conditions at Hardy's Channel, also on the North Shore, have prevented soundings of the depth of the channel there.

A survey in the spring of 2018 showed no need for dredging, but DFO cannot confirm there is no need for dredging this year. The department said depth sounding is a priority, and it hopes it will get it done this week.

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