Northeastern Newfoundland socked in with sea ice

Heavy sea ice has jammed up against the northeast coast of Newfoundland leaving boats in many communities dozens of kilometres away from open water.

"A large pack of ice came down from Labrador and filled up into Notre Dame Bay and the whole northeast coast is full of ice," said Trevor Hodgson, the Canadian Coast Guard's superintendent of ice operations for the Atlantic region.

"So we are experiencing probably 30 to 40 miles of pack ice for most communities to be able to get out into open water." 

Hodgson said the heavy pack ice is causing trouble for fishermen.

"There are a lot of people who are anxious to get out fishing and start making money for the season. Some people are coming out into the ice probably a little prematurely and it results in them getting stuck," he said.

According to Hodgson, that has an impact on the coast guard too.

"It takes away our resources and we have to go and free up some ships. Some are coming up on the ice pans and they can't move anywhere … so we need to bring in somebody to help move them out."

Helping those boats can be a delicate operation.

"Generally with the fishing vessels, they are pinned up in the ice and sometimes they could be taking on water or be drifting toward shore. Basically, the icebreaker will get close enough to relieve the pressure on that ice and hopefully they can steer out to safer waters." he said.

Hodgson said that in some cases, icebreakers work like a snowplow clearing a path.

"The problem is that unlike a regular snowplow, the icebreakers are working on water and there can be a lot of pressure on the ice.

"It can squeeze together back behind the icebreaker and can result in the fishing vessel getting stuck again which can mean a lot of time circling around trying to get them freed up again," he said.

Souther Labrador ice conditions better

Hodgson said ice conditions in the Strait of Belle Isle have improved.

"There was a lot of pressure coming in on the ice coming into Blanc Sablon and St. Barbe, for the ferry for Labrador. That has been some trouble but the ferry is running today and everything is looking good for the next couple of days," he said.

Hodgson said it's difficult to say how long ice might be a problem on the northeast coast.

"It's not something we can easily predict. It has to do with the wind, weather, waves, and many factors. So, we are hoping for some southwest winds to clear ice off the northeast coast over the next week or two."