Stuck boats, damaged propellers and warm lobster: The cost of excessive moss in Naufrage harbour

·3 min read
Lobster buyer Jason MacCormack said he estimates there is more than two metres of moss on the east side of the wharf which has never happened before. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)
Lobster buyer Jason MacCormack said he estimates there is more than two metres of moss on the east side of the wharf which has never happened before. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)

People who fish lobster out of the harbour in Naufrage on Prince Edward Island's north shore say the area where they unload and refuel is filled with moss, causing boats to get stuck at low tide.

"This is an ongoing problem, but this year has been absolutely horrific," said Janet MacDonald, who has been fishing out of Naufrage Harbour with her family for 48 years.

"The problem right now, it's the moss. You can't get in. You can't get out."

She said thus far, crews have been "lucky" because weather conditions have been favourable.

"What's going to happen if somebody's stuck in too long or somebody is stuck in the pond and you can't get past them and everything's starting to bottleneck?" asked MacDonald.

"It doesn't take a scientist to tell you this is just an accident waiting to happen. You cannot replace a life."

Submitted by Jason MacCormack
Submitted by Jason MacCormack

MacDonald said approximately 70 boats fish lobster out of Naufrage harbour.

And the problems go beyond getting stuck — moss is getting into boats' exhaust systems, too, causing concerns about possible overheating. Exhaust systems take in water to cool the engine, which can't happen when it's plugged with moss.

Getting tangled in the moss is also damaging boat propellers or blades, which MacDonald said are expensive to replace and hard to find on short notice.

"They start at $3,500 for a set of blades. And it doesn't make any difference whether you have insurance, if you do not have a spare set, you're not going fishing the next day."

'Not good for the lobster'

It's a frustrating situation for buyers, since they are all located at the wharf's east side, which is seeing the worst of the moss buildup. That's where boats stop to unload their catches and have them weighed.

"This has never happened, where we've had this issue on this side of the wharf," said buyer Jason MacCormack.

"There's generally water issues, but not anything to this extreme where there's seven or eight feet of moss in the whole bullpen. It's never happened."

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

MacCormack said boats could end up stranded out in the water for several hours when they are unable to dock.

Any such delay may not be good for the live lobster — which he said will become more of a concern as temperatures continue to rise this spring.

"Every hour or two that the lobsters sit in a boat is not good for lobsters." said MacCormack. "It's something that, as it gets warmer, it'll become a lot more of an issue."

Submitted by Jason MacCormack
Submitted by Jason MacCormack

He said it'll mean crews will have to time their work around the tides as opposed to coming and going at their own pace.

"It's going to make their jobs much harder to do whenever they have to take into consideration whether they'll be able to access the fuel tanks or unload their boat or even tie up whenever they get to the harbour," said MacCormack.

He said he's been told by Fisheries and Oceans Canada the equipment required to remove the moss on that side of the wharf exceeds the weight restrictions allowed for vehicles in that area.

"It's very frustrating," said MacCormack. "We're just trying to buy lobster and make a living the same as the fishermen are trying to fish. There's only two months. So you have to be able to do your job for those two months. It just makes it hard whenever the harbour isn't ready for it."

DFO officials say dredging on the west side of Naufrage harbour was completed in the spring, and confirm "organic debris" has made the east side of the basin difficult to navigate at low tide.

They said work continues with the Harbour Authority of Naufrage but didn't specify the nature of that work or when it might be completed.

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