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'Worse now than it's ever been': Wheatley, Ont. harbour not safe, says fisherman

A Wheatley, Ont. fisherman thinks the almost $2 million from the government in dredging projects for the harbour since 2012 is a 'Bandaid solution.'

'When I come into Wheatley, I'm shaking. I need a minute or two to gather myself'

Since 2012, about $4 million has been invested into Wheatley Harbour by the Canadian government, through the department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Small Craft Harbours Program. 

A Wheatley, Ont. fisherman thinks the almost $2 million from the government in dredging projects for the harbour since 2012 is a 'Bandaid solution.'

"This has been going on since the '70s," said Bobby Cabral, who took over his father's business and has been fishing out of Wheatley Harbour since 1998.

"It's worse now than it's ever been."

Cabral battles his fishing vessel in and out of the harbour on an almost-daily basis, fighting over a sandbar which keeps building up in his path. He's one of about 35 commercial fishing vessels operating out of the harbour — vessels which bring about $9.7 million in annual landings.

In 2012, more than $165,000 was invested in dredging projects at Wheatley Harbour. 

Cabral said this time of the year, the weather is worse, which makes the sandbar worse. His boat carries 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

"If I get on the rocks and rip a seam and spill all my fuel out ... I want my children to have me around," said Cabral. 

Some of the dredging he's seen done to the harbour involved scooping out piles of sand, trucking it about two kilometres down the road, and dumping the sand back in the lake.

"What do they think that's going to do?" said Cabral. 

Since 2012, about $4 million has been invested into Wheatley Harbour by the Canadian government, through the department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Small Craft Harbours Program. 

Wheatley Harbour is not a safe place.- Bobby Cabral, fisherman

$1.3 million of that was for repair and maintenance projects, including electrical repairs, a wharf extension, and deck and pile replacements. $917,000 has been spent on 19 different dredging projects since 2012.

An $1.7 million dredging project in 2015 and 2016 removed sediment from the entrance channel and added a "sink" to collect sediment.

But Cabral said fishermen are turning to operate out of Kingsville, because going into Wheatley is "too hazardous."

"That's extra fuel ... extra cost. But I want to be safe. I want my boat to be safe, I want my crew to be safe," said Cabral. "Wheatley Harbour is not a safe place."

As a fisherman, Cabral said coming into port is supposed to be like coming home.

"When I come into Wheatley, I'm shaking. I need a minute or two to gather myself ... that's how scary it is," said Cabral. 

The ongoing battle with the sandbar has cost Cabral about $9,000 in damage to his vessel, plus more costs in route changes and time lost fishing.

"Every time you hit bottom, your propeller is chewing up the sand. Your bearings go out of alignment. Once you start getting vibration in the boat, everything starts rattling loose," said Cabral, who has been stuck a number of times on the sandbar. 

A dredging study was conducted in March 2014, to evaluate the transportation pathways at the harbour to develop short-term and long-term strategies for management. 

"They're just putting a Bandaid solution on the problem," said Cabral. "They do the work, they spend a million dollars, and then they leave. Then we get a storm and the sand is back again."

Cabral said the government is "just throwing money out the door."

"Why don't they just fix it properly?" said Cabral. "Someone is going to get killed ... they'll be an oil spill."

According to Cabral, he'll fish somewhere more safe until the problems at Wheatley Harbour are resolved.

Another dredging project is scheduled to begin this week

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