Lobster crews call for dredging after boats run aground at Savage Harbour

·3 min read
Drone footage from Thursday shows how close a new sandbar has crept to the passage that lobster boats use to enter Savage Harbour on Prince Edward Island's North Shore.  (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)
Drone footage from Thursday shows how close a new sandbar has crept to the passage that lobster boats use to enter Savage Harbour on Prince Edward Island's North Shore. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)

Fishermen using a small harbour on P.E.I.'s North Shore are speaking out about what they say is a dangerous situation, and calling for dredging in the area.

Boats have been running aground in the mouth of Savage Harbour after a combination of high winds, extremely low tides and ocean currents rapidly built up a sandbar there.

Lobster crews say the water there is so shallow that many of Savage Harbour's two dozen boats aren't coming in there at all, but choosing to land their catch at either Tracadie or Red Head Harbour at Morell.

Kevin Coffin says conditions are the worst he's ever seen in the area.

Mid-morning on Tuesday, boats loaded with the day's catch were fighting their way into Savage Harbour in reverse — using their propeller blades to literally drag the vessels across the shallow sandy bottom.

Kevin Coffin says his boat was 'actually up against the breakwater' when he tried to enter the mouth of Savage Harbour on Tuesday.
Kevin Coffin says his boat was 'actually up against the breakwater' when he tried to enter the mouth of Savage Harbour on Tuesday. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

"I couldn't go forward so I just kept in reverse," Coffin told CBC News "I was actually up against the breakwater there, the north end of it. And I said, 'If I can get my stern more to the southwest, I might get dug out.

"And sure enough after another — I was there probably 40 minutes."

The above video, taken by Adam MacIsaac while his boat was trying to make it through the gap, was one of three he posted on Facebook Tuesday. "Some fancy footwork on the last two boats getting into Savage Harbour for the day," he wrote. "The things you do for lobster — or at least to get lobster to others."

The president of the Savage Harbour harbour authority, George Doyle, says shifting sands are always a problem in Prince Edward Island's North Shore ports.

When heavily loaded boats are making their way back to shore at a time when the tide is low, the stage is set for risk.

Doyle said he has put out a call out to Fisheries and Oceans officials to request dredging.

George Doyle, president of the harbour authority at Savage Harbour, says federal officials told him their soundings suggested 'things were normal,' adding: 'I'm not sure how their math works.'
George Doyle, president of the harbour authority at Savage Harbour, says federal officials told him their soundings suggested 'things were normal,' adding: 'I'm not sure how their math works.'(Brian Higgins/CBC)

"When we started noticing that we were hitting bottom and touching on the bottom going over the bar, we advised Small Craft Harbours of the situation," he said.

The Small Craft Harbours program of DFO did send someone to check the depth of water in the area, Doyle said.

"I'm not sure how their math works, but they advised us that the soundings indicated that things were normal — but that's not what we're experiencing, going in and out over the bar."

About two dozen lobster boats usually fish out of Savage Harbour.
About two dozen lobster boats usually fish out of Savage Harbour. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

CBC News reached out to Fisheries and Oceans for comment, but did not hear back.

The harbour authority says it could take months to get dredging done, and time is running out.

The big challenge for the local lobster fleet will come at the end of fishing season five weeks from now, when boats laden with hundreds of heavy traps need to make one last trip back in.

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