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Lobster losses: Interruption in Digby ferry service worries seafood shippers

The Fundy Rose ferry docked in Digby. The ferry sails between Digby, N.S. and Saint John, N.B. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
The Fundy Rose ferry docked in Digby. The ferry sails between Digby, N.S. and Saint John, N.B. - Tina Comeau

To say Port LaTour trucker Brian Reynolds was unimpressed when he received notice in early January that the Digby ferry would be out of service between Jan. 24 to Feb. 21 would be an understatement.

“They come here in October, the Bay Ferries managers in Digby and Saint John, they came in the office and told me there would be no interruptions for the next two years,” said Reynolds, owner of B. Reynolds Trucking, in an interview.

But now that's not the case.

Infrastructure maintenance at the Saint John terminal on the hydraulic ramp is the reason for the interruption in service, said Reynolds.

“This time of year, Valentine’s and the Chinese New Year, are two big events in the U.S. Some of the lobster get shipped to China. It’s a busy time of year. Not as busy as Christmas and New Year's but it’s the next busiest time ,” said Reynolds. “January we could live with, but February hurts.”

Reynolds said his company makes more than 300 crossings on the Fundy Rose ferry every year.

In past years there have also been shutdowns in the service due to infrastructure maintenance and vessel drydock work. While Bay Ferries schedules the work outside of the peak tourism period, it causes issues for the seafood industry, which now must make lengthier trips by road to get products to market.

“It’s a problem we shouldn’t have to deal with,” Reynolds said. “It’s a main route for lobster. Clearwater has just opened the scallop fishery so we’ll be hauling loads of scallop soon. It’s a peak time of year.”

A transport truck drives onto the Fundy Rose ferry in Digby for a trip across to Saint John, N.B.  - Tina Comeau
A transport truck drives onto the Fundy Rose ferry in Digby for a trip across to Saint John, N.B. - Tina Comeau


Lockeport seafood buyer Mike Cotter said the interruption in the ferry service affects everybody.

"For years they (Bay Ferries) always did infrastructure maintenance in March,” he said, which was “a better time."

"It’s a slower time for the lobster industry than what it is in February," Cotter said.

“Doing it in February is going to hurt everybody in the industry. The truckers are all going to be affected,” he said. “March is a slow month for markets and a slow month for fishing, so they usually do the refit in the month of March.”

Cotter said in December, with limited access to air cargo out of Stanfield International Airport, a lot of lobster was put on trucks and shipped by truck to airports in New York, Boston, and Toronto.

“We had to rely on flying stuff out of JFK, Boston or Toronto. We used the ferry more," he said. "The ferry became a very, very big part for us in December getting product to market."

Reynolds has initiated a lobbying effort to try to get Bay Ferries to postpone the infrastructure maintenance until March or April.

Asked about the work and the timing of it, Rhonda Latter, Bay Ferries' director of corporate services, replied via email on Jan. 7.

"Some repair work is required to a portion of our bridge loading structure in Saint John. The need for this work became known over recent months," she said. "As always in this type of situation, the timing is based on the least inconvenience to customers and taking advantage of traffic low points. In this case, we were fortunately able to continue in service through the busy holiday period."

"Based on our analysis of traffic patterns, we have always targeted the period beginning late January as being the least inconvenience to our customers, if an interruption is required," Latter added. "However, the overriding consideration is safety of the operation and the assets with which we are entrusted and lessening the risk of a more significant disruption."

West Nova MP Chris d’Entremont said the timing of the interruption in ferry service and its impact on the seafood industry does concern him in that "the boat would close up before the Chinese New Year, knowing our product gets shipped all around the world prior to that."

"It is a transportation link for us; it’s definitely a benefit for the trucking industry," said d'Entremont. "I don’t understand why Bay Ferries had to shut it down so early.”

D’Entremont said he will be talking to the ferry operator and owner, as well as the Department of Transport, “to understand what the responsibility of the operator is."

"Hopefully they can push it a few more weeks before they have to put it in drydock," he said. "Hopefully it’s something they can hold off doing for a week or two. That’s not much.”


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