Gearing up for this fall’s LFA 33/34 lobster fishery is going to be a little more challenging for 17 fishermen in Shelburne County who lost thousands of dollars in uninsurable fishing gear during the Barrington Lake wildfire last spring.
Called the largest wildfire in Nova Scotia’s history, the wildfire burned out-of-control for two weeks in late May/early June, leaving a path of destruction in its wake, including 60 primary residences, some 150 buildings, vehicles and fishing gear.
“The only thing I didn’t lose was whatever was in the water and whatever was on the boat,” says Shelburne County fisherman Kasey Demings. “Thirty tubs of halibut gear on the boat, 240 traps in the water, but other than that, everything is gone; house, barn, family cottage.”
Demings, a volunteer firefighter, was on the front lines fighting the fire. He estimated he lost upwards of $300,000 worth of fishing gear.
As Demings explained, fishing gear stored outside is uninsurable. “Ninety per cent of gear is outside. I don’t know what kind of building you would have to have to house the amount of gear that we have. That’s why we have trap yards. Whatever can go outside stays outside. Buoys we try and get inside, storage of all that stuff. It’s almost impossible to store all the traps inside. I had almost 600 traps.”
True to form, offers of help have been pouring in from fellow fishermen. A fund was established at Vernon d’Eon Fishing Supplies where monetary donations could be made and a gear collection day organized by the Brazil Rock 33/34 Lobster Association.
When the fishermen were invited to meet with provincial Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Steve Craig to discuss their losses and situations, they were led to believe more help was on the way, only to be offered a one-time grant of $2,500.
“For him to offer that, you wouldn’t even notice it if you went to Vernon d’Eon’s. I could spend that in five minutes and I still wouldn’t even have a string of gear,” said Demings. “It was really a slap in the face because we didn’t go out seeking this money or support. It wasn’t us seeking it. We were invited into a room by Minster Craig. We were told by the minister there’s going to be support, not to worry, the same old political song and dance that you get.”
The Nova Scotia Liberals, the official opposition, has called on the Houston government to provide $1 million in direct financial assistance to help fishers replace gear and traps lost in the wildfire.
“The lobster fishery in southwestern Nova Scotia is the economic backbone of the region and a key economic driver for the province so it’s incumbent upon the government to step up to protect the industry in this time of need,” said opposition leader Zach Churchill in a media release.
“After two months in inaction, the provincial government must stop dragging its feet and put real support on the table now so impacted fishers can get gear purchased in time and the start of the fall fishery before it’s too late.”
Dan Fleck, executive director of Brazil Rock 33/34 lobster association, said there were fishers working as volunteer firefighters only to come home and learn they had lost everything.
“The entire region is already suffering financially from the fires and their resources are being stretched even thinner by having to choose between rebuilding a home or rebuilding their livelihood,” said Fleck. “The support needed now is critical and can make a difference between saving the season and helping people rebuild or losing the season and see people face compounding financial hardships.”
Demings said he had lots of fishermen reach out and offer him gear and stuff. “I’ve picked some of it up. That’s as far as I’ve got. I’ve got to get the trap yard fixed up, cleaned up and start organizing my gear a little better.”
Demings said he’s not sure why, but government never seems to want to help fishermen for whatever reason. “I’m kind of relying on my fellow fishermen,” he said. “I know they will always be there for me so that’s kind of whom I’m leaning on more is my fellow fishermen and my community, friends and family because they’re the ones who have been there every step of the way for the support we need.