Dredging delays could slow Malpeque Harbour's start to lobster season

Setting day for the spring lobster fishing season on much of P.E.I. begins at 6 a.m. Friday, but for those using the Malpeque channel there could be delays.

'The money will never replace someone's life if someone's life is lost there tomorrow'

Chris Wall says some fishermen will still try to use the channel on May 15, despite the dredging operation not being complete. (Ken Linton/CBC)

Setting day for the spring lobster fishing season on much of P.E.I. begins at 6 a.m. Friday, but for those using the Malpeque channel there could be delays.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has cautioned fishermen in Malpeque Harbour that the yearly dredging effort is still ongoing, as the dredger has been unable to create a pass through the sand bar.

"The issue is that we're the victim of Mother Nature and the amount of sand that she deposits here yearly," said Malpeque lobster fisherman Chris Wall, who is also a part of the Malpeque Harbour Authority and a member of the steering committee looking to find a solution to the harbour problem.

"There's approximately 2,000 dump-truck loads of sand that have filled the navigational channel."

The issue of sand buildup in the channel is not new. Wall said it has been an issue for the 25 years he has been fishing in the area, and for his fisherman father years before that.

The dredger was delayed in its operation to cut the channel due to weather and technical issues. (Ken Linton/CBC)

"There's an inside point that we can just run aground on and come to a stop and not go any further, or there's an outside point that will actually hang you up and a wave can roll you over there," Wall said.

"It's gotten progressively worse where it is cost prohibitive to the government to try and keep it open and it's physically impossible to keep it open, like it doesn't last the length of the season now."

Move to other harbours

"Difficult environmental conditions at the Malpeque channel creates an ongoing problem of infilling, sand migration and littoral drift – that is the movement of sand along a shoreline with current," DFO said in an emailed statement to CBC.

The statement went on to say that dredging equipment has been on-site since April 29, but efforts have been delayed by a combination of bad weather and technical challenges, even with the extra two weeks due to delays to the start of the fishing season caused by COVID-19.

Lobster fishermen were busy loading their boats on Thursday to be ready for whenever they could try to leave Malpeque Harbour on Friday. (Ken Linton/CBC)

Wall estimated that a third of the fishermen in Malpeque Harbour have actually moved their boats and traps to other harbours in order to hit the water at the start of setting day.

Out of the remaining fishermen, Wall said some may still try to leave at 6 a.m., while others will try later in the day when the tide is higher.

Wall said there was a lot to factor in when looking at heading out on the water on Friday.

"It's not only, you know, my own vessel, I guess, my life, my employees ... I could put them at risk too," Wall said. 

"The money will never replace someone's life if someone's life is lost there tomorrow."

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Steve Bruce


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