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Southwest Nova Scotia fishing industry on edge as wildfires rage

Osborne Burke, seen in this file photo, is president of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance.  He says much is at risk for Shelburne County communities as wildfires threaten shellfish facilities.  (Mark Crosby/CBC - Image Credit)

Osborne Burke, seen in this file photo, is president of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance. He says much is at risk for Shelburne County communities as wildfires threaten shellfish facilities. (Mark Crosby/CBC – Image Credit)

Up to 20 seafood storage and processing facilities along Nova Scotia’s south coast could be at risk because they fall within wildfire evacuation order areas in Shelburne County, a scenario that according to an industry veteran, would be economically devastating to the region.

“When you have a lot of inventory, millions of dollars, it’s critical and a major concern for our members who have these facilities,” Osborne Burke, president of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, said in an interview.

“You take any of these operations out of a small community and it’s the heart of the community.”

Burke said that between 15 and 20 of the alliance members are affected by the evacuation orders. Some of the facilities have generators that automatically kick in when the power goes out, while others require a switch to be manually thrown.

Relying on generators to maintain operations and preserve live lobster in holding tanks presents its own set of challenges, Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Steve Craig told reporters Thursday, because someone has to get fuel to those generators to keep the plants running.

“Nobody wants to see a fuel truck trying to get through areas that are on fire,” he said.

The minister said his department is working with officials from the Department of Natural Resources to get aid to affected sites when and where it is safe and that they are also in discussions with federal officials about potential support should things worsen. Craig is scheduled to meet with his federal counterpart on Friday morning.

Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray announced that the lobster season in Area 33 would be extended until midnight Tuesday to give people more time to load their gear as they try to fight the fires. Some fishermen are doing double duty as they also work as volunteer firefighters. The neighboring lobstering area 34 will close at midnight on Friday.

Craig said he remembers thinking about what would have happened to the region if the industry felt the brunt of Post-Tropical Storm Fiona as it passed through Nova Scotia last fall.

“I was thinking about how to get the boats out of the water and onto the land. I never thought we would look at how to get the boats off the land and into the water, and that’s the situation we have now,” he said. saying.

“It’s extremely serious and the ramifications of this could be very, very, very high, not just for today but for tomorrow and perhaps for years to come.”

Burke said the people he is talking to are experiencing “extreme stress” because they worry about the future of their facilities and lose valuable orders for live lobster because trucks cannot get from sites in Shelburne County to the airport or because no people available to load. and unload trucks.

Department of Natural Resources

Department of Natural Resources

The Victoria Fisheries Co-op in Neils Harbour, Cape Breton, where Burke is general manager, had to cancel a recent order for 400 boxes of lobster because the client in Shelburne did not have staff to unload the delivery. Burke said such examples show the impact of the wildfires on the entire industry from one end of the province to the other.

Adding to the stress Thursday, emergency management officials said people in Barrington Township and the City of Clark’s Harbor should be ready for evacuation orders.

While that advice is intended to give people time to prepare should the situation reach the point where an evacuation is necessary, Burke said the spread of fire to an area that is one of the mainstays of the industry of the locust would be a significant setback for the province and would have a long-term impact for the sector and communities.

“To what extent, I don’t know and I hope we both mess up and things get under control.”

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