MALPEQUE, P.E.I. – Another mussel boat got stuck as it tried to navigate the Malpeque Harbour channel Monday morning.
The vessel, working for P.E.I. Aqua Farms, was one of a pair that was returning to shore loaded with mussel crates when it ran aground. The first boat made it through the channel without incident before the second hit bottom. The crew was not injured.
The boat spent several hours stuck before crews on other vessels were able to transfer its load and lighten it enough so it could be pulled free.
“There’s no wind today so she’s just grounded. She’s not taking the swells. If it was windy like the other day this one would be swamped, too,” said Jerry Bidgood, plant manager for P.E.I. Aqua Farms.
This incident comes four days after another mussel boat got stuck in the same channel and sank. The four crewmen onboard had to be rescued, and the vessel sustained major water damage.
Bidgood said the situation is beyond frustrating and is starting to negatively impact his ability to run the business efficiently and safely.
“We’re trying to run a plant and we need product every day. We’ve got them boats in and out every day until ice comes. Now today, because that boat can’t come in, I don’t know if I’m going to have enough product to keep the plant going,” he said, speaking before the vessel was eventually freed.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) told the Journal Pioneer the channel was last dredged in the spring and that follow-up monitoring surveys have been done twice since then, the most recent on July 31. At that time, the channel was scheduled for re-dredging in mid-September. However, following Friday’s incident, another survey has been scheduled for early this week, and the results may prompt DFO to move the timetable for the next dredging.
In the meantime, Bidgood said his boats will be transporting smaller loads in an effort to avoid getting stuck. Normally they carry 16 crates full of mussels, but will be down to 12 per trip.
It will decrease efficiency and cost the company more money, but it’s worth it if it’s safer for the crews and avoids even longer delays in the long-term, he said.
Fisherman Martin MacDonald, who has also represented P.E.I. cultured mussel growers, said recently that these incidents are just the same old story with Malpeque Harbour and should come as a surprise to no one.
The federal government recently spent $500,000 on a study to consider options for fixing Malpeque Harbour long-term. One of the options discussed was building a new harbour and bypassing the need for a channel altogether.
MacDonald said Malpeque Harbour Authority voted unanimously to support that option. To date, there has been no movement on it from the federal government on what is estimated to be a $22 million project.
“It’s sad because it’s going to take somebody getting killed before they ever do anything,” he said.
“The leg work is done on what we want, what we need and what will work – we’re just missing the government willingness to move ahead.”