PEI

Malpeque Harbour woes continue as another boat runs aground Monday

Another mussel boat ran aground on a sandbar Monday morning in the channel at Malpeque, P.E.I., just days after one capsized, blocking the entrance to the busy harbour.

'Now all of our crews are nervous and the captains are nervous'

The channel at Malpeque Harbour is narrow and shallow, fishermen say. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Another mussel boat ran aground on a sandbar Monday morning in the channel at Malpeque, P.E.I., just days after one capsized, blocking the entrance to the busy harbour. 

That has the owner of a mussel boat fleet calling for a long-term solution to the channel's shallow water, where local fishermen say boats run aground often.

We need to see our federal officials step up here and help us out.— Jerry Bidgood

"We probably need another harbour or another place to land, all of that is documented. We just need someone to act on it," said Jerry Bidgood, general manager of Prince Edward Aqua Farms in New London, P.E.I. 

After heavy mussel crates were removed from the grounded boat by mid-day, it sailed on and boat traffic resumed. 

'It wasn't as scary'

"Because of the weather conditions it wasn't a swamped situation, it wasn't as scary," as the capsizing on Friday, Bidgood said. Four crew members had to be rescued in that incident.

'We probably need another harbour or another place to land,' says Gerry Bidgood of Prince Edward Aqua Farms. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Monday, the grounded boat had to be towed off the sandbar by other boats owned by the company. 

Two of its other boats, fearing they would also get stuck in the shallow waters, also unloaded their catch of mussels before trying to come in the channel.

"Now all of our crews are nervous and the captains are nervous," about getting in and out of the harbour safely, Bidgood said.

"In the meantime, we have a plant to run and I need product every day." 

A total of 25 to 30 mussel boats come in and out of the harbour every day, Bidgood said. Prince Edward Aqua Farms employs about 60 plant workers and up to 100 crew on 30 to 40 boats in P.E.I. harbours. 

Relocation could be costly

Dredging excess sand to try to make the channel deeper has been happening for years in Malpeque, Bidgood said, and usually happens just before the spring lobster season. But he doesn't believe it is a good long-term solution. 

'We have a plant to run and I need product every day,' says Bidgood. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

"As soon as lobster season is over, we get any kind of wind ... then the run tends to close in quicker," he explained, noting that boats laden with mussels also need a deeper channel than lobster boats.

The harbour authority said a study was done in recent years that explored the possibility of relocating the entire harbour to a better spot with deeper water, but that would cost tens of millions of dollars, the harbour authority said.

The port is busy year-round, with millions of dollars of seafood coming ashore annually.

'Right back to square one'

For now, the mussel boats are waiting for DFO to once again dredge the channel, and some may attempt to use other ports nearby.

Bidgood said he hoped DFO's dredging equipment would be working there by Friday, and expected dredging to take about a week.

"Which will give us some comfort for a couple of weeks but then we'll be right back to square one," Bidgood said. 

"We need to see our federal officials step up here and help us out — we need the fishermen to be safe." 

More P.E.I. news

With files from Brian Higgins

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