Malpeque Harbour channel plugged; fishermen remaining tied up as dredge works at site

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Chris Wall, a lobster fisherman who sails from Malpeque Harbour, is worried boats from there won?t be able to reach the fishing grounds on setting day because of a blocked harbour channel. - Colin MacLean

Posted April 29, 2019

MALPEQUE, P.E.I. — When P.E.I.’s lobster fleet heads out for setting day on Monday, their fellow captains in Malpeque Harbour might be left watching from the wharf.

An unprecedented amount of sand has moved in over the winter to choke off the narrow channel that gives the small harbour on P.E.I.’s north shore access to the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

A dredger is on site and working to get the passage open but, with setting day tentatively set for April 29, fishermen who use the wharf are worried – and frustrated.

A meeting was called Friday between fishermen, their wharf authority, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Malpeque MP Wayne Easter to talk options.

“A lot of people are apprehensive, looking at the weather hoping they will be able to get a hole through – but it doesn’t look good,” said Chris Wall, a fisherman and a member of the Malpeque Harbour Authority

“The alternatives are to move to other harbours, which really aren’t alternatives when the gear is here (and) the boats are here. It could be done, but I think a lot of people are going to risk it and leave it, maybe hoping the weather or the dredge will have enough of a hole out that we can get out.”

Lines of boats and lobster traps sit waiting at Malpeque Harbour for setting day, which is tentatively set for April 29.
Lines of boats and lobster traps sit waiting at Malpeque Harbour for setting day, which is tentatively set for April 29.

At this point, most captains who fish from Malpeque already have their gear on the wharf ready to go. Moving it would be costly proposition.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has said that lingering ice originally delayed the dredger. Bad weather, coupled with the shear amount of sand this year, further conspired to set the project behind schedule.

If the weather co-operates today and tomorrow, captains have been told there is a small chance the channel could be open enough for them to get through.

Weather could also delay setting day entirely. Captains heard Friday that the forecast for April 29 is iffy at best. There is a call scheduled between the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association and DFO for Saturday morning to decide whether they’ll go ahead.

“It’s a difficult situation,” said Easter, speaking after the meeting.

“I think all that can be done is being done, based on what I’ve heard from (DFO) here today.”

That being said, this problem is a surprise to no one.

The Malpeque Harbour channel has been a recurring problem for years, to the point where the previous Conservative federal government completed a review of long-term fixes in 2015.

“There’s a number of options, and all are very expensive,” said Easter, when asked about that report.

One of those options was to shut the current harbour entirely and build a new one outside the channel to bypass the problem. But cost estimates even at that time were about $22 million.

“But it’s also expensive to have dredge this harbour every year,” added Easter.

A dredger works just off shore of Malpeque Harbour.
A dredger works just off shore of Malpeque Harbour.