Setting day challenging but 'better than expected' say Malpeque fishermen

Despite a two-week delay to P.E.I.'s fishing season because of COVID-19 and added dredging challenges, Malpeque Harbour was still bustling with fishermen on setting day.

'The tide, that's what helped us out today'

Justin Pickering gets to work at Malpeque Harbour on setting day. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

Despite a two-week delay to P.E.I.'s fishing season because of COVID-19 and added dredging challenges, Malpeque Harbour was still bustling with fishermen on setting day.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans cautioned fishermen in Malpeque Harbour that the yearly dredging effort was still ongoing, as the dredger was unable to create a clear passage through the channel that leads from the harbour to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

"After weeks of stress and sleepless nights, it went much better than expected," said Justin Pickering, a captain who fishes from the harbour.

"The wind let up last night and the dredger was able to get a little bit of a path cut through for us and we were the second boat out," he said. 

Between COVID-19 and dredging issues, this year's setting day presented some challenges for fishermen at Malpeque Harbour. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

'Starting at a disadvantage'

While setting day exceeded Pickering's expectations, he said the season will still be full of challenges, starting with the two-week delay. 

"Those are our most productive two weeks and we've already lost them. So we're starting at a disadvantage and then this whole dredger issue in Malpeque just kind of compounds everything," he said.

"I just like to see a bit of federal government backing on this issue because it's been ongoing for way too many years and it's time that our federal government steps in before somebody gets killed."

It's been one stressful year.— Dale Wall, captain

Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Pickering expects the province's new health measures will also present issues. 

"Basically, social distancing is non-existent on fishing boats," he said.

"We all wear gloves all day anyway. I mean, basically everybody I work with is family. So we're not too worried about, you know, people that have travelled the country or anything like that. We all know one another."

Dale Wall, who is captain of the boat Changing Tides, echoed some of Pickering's concerns for the weeks ahead.

"It's been one stressful year," he said.

Dale Wall says this year's setting day wasn't the same as previous years. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

Wall, who's been fishing for 40 years, said despite the shortened season he hopes finally getting a start will help Island processors. 

However even with the stressful dredging situation, he said this year's setting day was generally on par with last year.

"Setting was 6 a.m. this morning and I never left the wharf until about 8 a.m.," he said, "The tide, that's what helped us out today." 

Even as this year's setting day was comparable to last year's, Wall said it was difficult to enjoy, considering the current circumstances.

"I'm not enjoying setting day today so it's a stressful day," he said. "It takes away from everything. It's [usually] kind of like Christmas Day to the fishermen." 

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Isabella Zavarise


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