SOUTHWESTERN NS – A full complement of Search and Rescue (SAR) resources will be on the water and standing by when the commercial lobster fishery in LFAs 33 and 34 opens.
“We’re in the business of planning for the worst and hoping for the best,” said Marc Ouellette, Canadian Coast Guard Regional Supervisor for Maritime Search and Rescue at the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Halifax.
The season is set to start in Lobster Fishing Areas (LFAs) 33 and 34 on the last Monday of November, weather permitted. If winds are too strong, the opening will be delayed accordingly.
(Note: This year the decision has been made the season will not open on Nov. 26.)
The area covered in this commercial fishery includes southwestern Nova Scotia – which takes in all of Yarmouth and Shelburne counties and parts of Digby County, and the entire south shore of province all the way through to Halifax.
Ouellette said there’s a strategy in place for the opening of the LFA 33 and 34 fishery, which is repeated every year without too much modification and is based on the amount of marine traffic and the risk identified through studies of what is high risk for SAR coverage.
The plan includes bringing in second crews to the three small lifeboat stations in Sambro, Clark’s Harbour and Westport to be on stand-by at the station where they will have access to the stations’ zodiacs or fast rescue crafts (FRC) if tasked, and also to assist the first crew who will be out on patrol in the Arun class cutters.
“In Clark’s Harbour we’re expecting to bring in a second cutter with an additional crew, which allows us to run both cutters simultaneously for opening day,” said Ouellette.
In addition, two offshore Coast Guard patrol vessels will be strategically placed on the fishing grounds, one in the western end somewhere not too far off Yarmouth, and the other on the eastern side between Halifax and Clark’s Harbour.
“On top of that we’re taking advantage of the Coast Guard Auxiliary,” said Ouellette. “It’s a great component of the SAR system. We used them last last year and it was a great addition to what we had available for resources.”
Coast Guard Auxiliary members are volunteers and professional fishermen for the most part who know the area very well, said Ouellette. Plans are for two Coast Guard Auxiliary vessels to be on standby on the fishing grounds for the opening.
Ouellette said the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) can also task the fisheries conservation and protection boats that will be out on the water during the opening.
“We monitor their positions and can task them if needed for SAR,” said Ouellette. “Those are just extra resources on the water.”
On the aeronautical side, Ouellette said JRCC Halifax works closely with the Canadian Air Force, who traditionally task a fixed wing Hercules and a helicopter out of Greenwood for the opening. The chopper will be either on stand-by in Yarmouth waiting for tasking or they’ll be out flying, monitoring and patrolling the area and ready to assist, said Ouellette, adding the same for the Hercules, which will either be on patrol or on 30- minute standby at Greenwood.
Ouellette said most additional SAR assets are maintained for the first two days the JRCC releases them.
“Once the fishermen have set most of their traps, we start standing down assets but keep a heightened posture for the first two days.”
As always, and as mentioned, weather determines when the fishery opens.
“We usually do a weather briefing a few days before the opening,” said Ouellette. “They have criteria that will determine if they proceed or not so if there is a weather delay, we just push back and maintain resources for the following day or whenever they can go. We maintain that posture until the guys can get out there and do what they need to do.”
Ouellette said it varies hugely from year to year how the season opening goes.
“A great year is when we get very few calls. I know two years ago was a fairly busy year. You never know what your going to get,” he said, adding “safety always needs to be a priority” for fishermen.
One big issue for the Coast Guard is a lot of vessels have unregistered Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) “which can delay our response” if they get in trouble said Ouellette. He is urging any fishermen with an unregistered beacon aboard their vessel to get it registered as soon as possible.
Ouellette also encourages fishermen to wear their PFDs when working on the deck.
“To me it makes a lot of sense. They are just helping themselves by being safe and wearing the proper gear.”