Crab conundrum

Terri Saunders
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Loss of new ferry, and possible loss of collector boat, could leave area fishers in a lurch this season

Last week, residents of St. Brendan’s held a protest in an effort to send word to the provincial government they are not happy a ferry assigned to their community two years ago was being shipped off to Bell Island, only to be replaced by a vessel they say is unreliable and has a tendency to break down frequently.

While the focus of the protest was the fact the ferry run between the island and Burnside on the mainland is considered a highway from people travelling to and from St. Brendan’s, concerns were also raised about what the vessel replacement could mean for the area’s fishery.

Mayor Veronica Bloomfield said she’s heard a collector boat once operated by a fish processing company in Valleyfield won’t be heading to St. Brendan’s this coming fishing season, and that’s got a lot of people worried.

“If the boat doesn’t come, and if that ferry breaks down, what’s going to happen to all the crab that normally is taken from here by fishers and sent to that plant?” she said. “If you can’t get your catch off the island, you can’t make a living.”

John Aylward agrees with Mayor Bloomfield. A crab fisher himself, Mr. Aylward said if the collector boat isn’t on the run this season — which lasts from April to July most years — it’s going to cause concerns for almost everyone who calls St. Brendan’s home.

“There are probably 21 or 22 people who fish each season,” he said. “If they can’t get their catch to the plant, it’s going to be rough times for nearly everyone who lives here.”

The problem, both Mayor Broomfield and Mr. Aylward say, is the fact the MV Sound of Islay, the ferry brought in to replace the MV Grace Sparkes, is not reliable.

“We had her here before, and she would break down all the time,” said Mr. Aylward. “If the collector boat isn’t going to come here, we will have to move our catch off the island using tractor trailers.

“But if that ferry isn’t working, we can’t get the catch off.”

Economic impact

Mayor Bloomfield said her community’s economy will be significantly negatively impacted should the MV Sound of Islay prove to be an unreliable mode of transportation to and from the mainland.

“It’s going to cause some real problems.” St. Brendan’s Mayor Veronica Broomfield

“It’s going to cause some real problems,” she said. “We were so pleased to have the Grace Sparkes, and it was a like a sigh of relief went through the entire community when we got her.

“Not only were we going to be able to travel back and forth, and depend on that boat to get us back and forth, the fishermen knew that if for some reason that collector boat from the plant wasn’t coming through, at least they could load their catches aboard a truck, and have them taken off by the ferry,” she said. “Now, we’ve got this other ferry, and there’s just not a lot of confidence she’s going to do what we need her to do when we need her to do it.”

The MV Grace Sparkes has been sent to service the Bell Island ferry run, while that area’s vessel, the MV Beaumont Hamel, is in refit.

The MV Grace Sparkes is expected to remain in the Bell Island area for at least 10 weeks, after which time everyone in St. Brendan’s is hoping it will be sent back to them.

In the meantime, it’s like the fishing season will begin and the only way fishers may be able to get their catch to market is through the use of vessel whose dependability has many people worried.

“We know what she is like, and we don’t have a lot of faith she’s going to be able to service our community the way we need her to,” said Mr. Aylward. “As for exactly how that will impact everyone in the long run, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Twitter: @Beacon1Reporter

Organizations: MV Sound of Islay

Geographic location: Valleyfield, Bell Island

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