By Tina Comeau
On what normally would have been the first day of the lobster fishery, lobster fishermen spent the day Monday, Nov. 26, continuing to load up their boats with traps as high winds kept them ashore.
The weather forced the postponement of dumping day, which is traditionally held the last Monday of November.
Instead, the season was scheduled to get underway on Tuesday, Nov. 27 in lobster fishing areas 33 and 34, which includes southwestern Nova Scotia and the south shore of the province.
The season in LFA 34, which includes Yarmouth and Shelburne counties, and parts of Digby County, will get underway at 6 a.m. In the neighbouring LFA 33 it is a 7 a.m. start time.
When it comes to the lobster season off southwestern Nova Scotia, everyone hopes it will be a profitable season. But more importantly, they hope it will be a safe one.
And that concern over safety begins on dumping day when fishermen head to the fishing grounds aboard boats loaded with hundreds of lobster traps to set their gear for the season.
Barry Smith of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax says the lobster fisheries in lobster fishing areas (LFAs) 33 and 34, which stretch from parts of Digby County around to the Halifax region, are considered to be the highest-risk fisheries there are. This is based on the fact that there is a high concentration of boats loaded with traps, with some setting their gear out further from shore than ever.
Because of this a plan is put in place every year to coincide with the opening of these fisheries.
Smith says the plan this year – which was pushed back by one day due to the postponement of the fishery – is not unlike that of previous years. There will be Coast Guard cutters and DFO FRCs (fast rescue craft) stationed and patrolling the waters throughout the two fishing districts.
And safety officials won’t just be keeping an eye on things from the water, they’ll be taking to the air as well. The 413 Squadron in Greenwood will commence their 30-minute standby with a Cormorant helicopter at 6 a.m. A Hercules aircraft will also be airborne during the opening of the fishery.
In addition to this there will be a lot of other DFO vessels on the water. Although these vessels are there for enforcement, they can be called upon to aid a vessel in trouble. Rescue officials can call on Coast Guard auxiliary vessels if needed.
Still, when it comes to safety, fishermen should not solely rely on others.
“Your personal safety begins and ends with you,” Smith says when talking with fishermen.
He says fishermen are reminded to check their safety gear as a carefully as their fishing gear, and maybe even more so.
Fishermen are reminded to check for expired flares and life rafts. PFDs work and while they may be uncomfortable to wear while working on the boat, a personal floatation device could save your life in the water. But it can’t help you much if you’re in the water and it is sitting in the wheelhouse.
And as they do every year, safety officials cannot stress enough the need to ensure that EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) are registered.
This is because while a satellite can pick up the emergency beacon signal to activate a search response, it can’t determine position. And the time it takes to track down a vessel’s location can be a waste of valuable time that could be spent coming to the aid of a vessel. An unregistered beacon could delay a search by as much as an hour or more.
If the EPIRB is not registered, all that rescue personnel will know initially is that there is a beacon going off somewhere in Canada.
“Plus if it is registered and it's a false alarm, in one or two phone calls we can solve it right away, otherwise we’re launching aircraft and vessels,” says Smith.
Fishermen are told to watch the weather and load their boats accordingly.
Fishermen are also reminded not to rely only on cell phones when contacting someone about an emergency because in that case the conversation is limited to two people on either end of the phone conversation. use the radios aboard the boat too, that way when there is a mayday relay other vessels in the area that hear it can respond.
If fishermen run into trouble and they have to give out their location, they should also provide more than just geographical markers. Don’t just say you’re located off of a particular island, for instance. Fishermen should also include their latitude and longitude readings.
There will be a conference call between port reps and DFO to confirm the opening of the season or if it needs to be postponed due to weather. In LFA 34, the opening day protocol states that winds above 25 knots will result in a postponement to the start of the season.
Meanwhile, if the weather delays the start of the season by a day, Smith says the search and rescue safety plan is just pushed back.
Asked if the same could be done if fishermen opted to go on strike at the start of the season to demand higher prices, he said it was difficult to speculate on what resources could be put in place on a day’s notice if the season only got underway days, or longer, beyond the time the fishery was supposed to have started.