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Cape Breton lobster fishers helping harvesters who lost their traps

Victoria Co-operative Fisheries Ltd. employees Colin MacDonald (in front), David Fraser and Lawrence MacKinnon assist in loading lobster traps onto a truck in Cheticamp on Wednesday. Victoria Co-op Fisheries purchased the used lobster traps at a reduced rate from Ricky Harris of Cheticamp to donate to fishers from Bay St. Lawrence to Smelt Brook, Victoria Co., who lost hundreds of traps in high winds last weekend.
Victoria Co-operative Fisheries Ltd. employees Colin MacDonald (in front), David Fraser and Lawrence MacKinnon assist in loading lobster traps onto a truck in Cheticamp on Wednesday. Victoria Co-op Fisheries purchased the used lobster traps at a reduced rate from Ricky Harris of Cheticamp to donate to fishers from Bay St. Lawrence to Smelt Brook, Victoria Co., who lost hundreds of traps in high winds last weekend.

SYDNEY, N.S. — Cape Breton lobster fishers are rallying around each other after wind destroyed hundreds of traps in the early days of the new season.

High winds over the weekend hit those who fish from Bay St. Lawrence to Smelt Brook hard, leaving some harvesters with as many as 175 of their allowed 275 traps damaged.

“If it happens after the first month that is one thing,” said Osborne Burke, general manager of the Victoria Co-operative Fisheries. “(But) in the first week of the season, after the first day, if you are trying to scrounge up used gear and patch gear, it is kind of heartbreaking.”

Burke said lobster fishers have just a two-month window to generate a full year’s livelihood and the first week of the season is often the most important one for catch sizes.

In the case of the lobster fishers who suffered damage to traps in the first week of the season, some were able to bring in one haul of traps, while others weren’t that lucky.

An informal survey of the area indicated those who fish to the west were hit worse than others. Half of the estimated 35 boats that leave Bay St. Lawrence suffered trap damage.

Luckily, many fishers immediately stepped forward to help those hit hardest by the wind damage.

“There were a number of fisherman that offered some used traps at $5 a trap,” he said. “Some fishermen in the Ingonish area donated 100 traps and used gear they have.

“They actually took it over to Bay St. Lawrence — hauled it over on a trailer themselves.”

The Victoria Co-op Fisheries added to the relief efforts by obtaining 300 used wooden traps from a fisherman in Cheticamp.

They picked the lobster traps up on Wednesday afternoon and immediately delivered them to members in areas such as Smelt Brook and White Point.

“Basically, community is what co-op is. We try to help as many members as we can,” he said.

“Other fishers are calling and offering gear that they have at a very reduced price. Everybody is trying to help in one way or the other.”

Burke is not surprised by the fishing community’s efforts to help one another.

“In the worst of things happening, the best comes out, too,” he said.

“All the fishermen fish competitively but at the same time when someone breaks down or something happens on the water, or something like this happens, a lot of individuals will put their best foot forward.”

Harvesters in harbours from Alder Point to Port Morien also lost thousands of dollars and their time when their traps were blown onshore and smashed by high winds this past weekend.

Paul Gentille, a Fisheries and Oceans area director, said harvesters from the tip of Cape Breton to well past Fourchu had traps impacted by the weekend of wind in some form or another.

“There’s a large number of harvesters that would have had lost or damaged traps, some not as bad as others but nevertheless many, many harvesters were impacted,” he said.

Despite the obvious setbacks, he called the Cape Breton lobster harvesters a “resilient” group.

“Those individuals that work on the water are experts at it and they work in very difficult conditions. They are at work today. I saw a large portion of the fleet out working.”

To help them quickly return to the waters, Fisheries and Oceans has had many conversations with tag suppliers and harvesters to ensure paperwork is finalized and replacement gear is legal before it is put in the water.

“In fairness, the stakeholders themselves that are on the water are the ones doing the heavy lifting,” he said. “They are retrieving and repairing and replacing traps at the end of their day. They are putting in a very full schedule to make things work.”

Though many traps were damaged, there have yet to be any reports of damage to vessels or small craft harbour facilities.

No requests have been made to extend the season, he said.

 

gmcneil@cbpost.com

 

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