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Emergency dredging resumes in Hay River, N.W.T, to relief of local fishers

A sandbar in the distance is where ships have gotten stuck near the mouth of the Hay River in Hay River, N.W.T. Emergency dredging was to resume this week after it was suspended last month because of the wildfire evacuations.

Posted on September 25, 2023

Work to clear sediment from harbour began in August, but stopped amid wildfire evacuations

The N.W.T.’s Department of Infrastructure is resuming emergency dredging of the Hay River harbour.

In a notice posted to the town’s Facebook page earlier this week, the department said the dredging work was expected to begin this past Monday and it was anticipated to take 20 days. Work to clear sediment and debris from waters initially began in August, but was delayed due to the wildfire evacuations.

Hay River is a hub for Canadian Coast Guard operations and shipping further North. However, in parts of the channel is a buildup of sediment, which sometimes creates obstacles for boats passing through.

The issue has been called a “political hot potato” by Hay River Mayor Kandis Jameson, referring to the many calls to increase dredging in the harbour since Canada discontinued a national dredging program in the mid-’90s.

‘It’s gotta be done’

The buildup of sediment can make it nearly impossible for boats and barges to navigate the waters, says Bert Buckley Sr., a long-time commercial fisherman in the area who has temporarily relocated his operations to Yellowknife.

With winter just around the corner, Buckley said he’s glad the dredging is resuming, regardless of any delays to industry in the area.

“Either way, it’s gotta be done. Really, it benefits anyone who needs to use that water, not just fishermen. It’s very unsafe,” he told CBC news.

The territory appears to have received the blessing of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to extend the work after being hit with a series of extreme weather events this summer.

The project was originally authorized to be done before Sept. 14 to avoid any impacts on fish migration, but the notice posted this week states that triggers for fish migration, including changes to water temperature and flow, have likely been delayed this year given unseasonably warm temperatures and sustained low precipitation and water levels.

The notice further states the work extension is not expected to disturb fish activities, with work being done to monitor congregations, and let them move upstream as needed.

Aaron Campbell is a commercial fisherman in Hay River. In between helping the community get back on its feet after the wildfire evacuations, he’s managed to get some time on the water. He doesn’t like what he’s seeing.

“If it gets any worse, are we even going to be able to fish?” Campbell wondered. “Next year, I want to put my 40-foot boat in the water and I am nervous. I do not want to get stuck out on the water.”

Aaron Campbell runs a fishing business in Hay River, N.W.T.

Campbell says he planned on letting his son take his smaller boat out alone for the first time this summer. He changed his mind when he saw the unusually low water levels.

The ongoing extreme weather events in the territory this year are causing Campbell concerns for what future generations will be dealing with.

Buckley hopes the water levels will rise so he can return to Hay River soon. He acknowledges setbacks are a part of the job, and hopes the continued dredging will help all mariners.

“It should’ve been done years ago,” he said. “But Mother Nature has her own way of doing things.”


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