After Fiona’s wrath, fishing communities across the Atlantic seek to rebuild their livelihoods – and protect themselves against future storms

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discusses the night of Fionas’ passage with local fishermen at the Pointe-Basse wharf in Havre-aux-Maisons, Quebec. September 29.nigel quinn/The Canadian Press

Even as coastal fishing communities in the Atlantic provinces struggle to gauge the extent of Fiona’s destruction, they have begun to focus on rebuilding – and whether it is possible to rebuild quickly but also sustainably. thoughtful, to guard against future powerful storms.

All week, anglers in Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have had to deal with damage from Fiona’s wake and the industry in the region, which exports more than $4.5 billion worth of seafood each year. But as officials plan for the future, they face two competing priorities: the need to rebuild quickly to be ready for the upcoming fishing season, and the need to completely redesign infrastructure in the face of climate change – a costlier approach. and potentially slower.

“As we move forward with these changes and repairs, it’s really critical to get it right,” said Ian MacPherson, senior advisor to the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association. “These are very important jobs and industries in local communities.”

Fishing and seafood processing employ approximately 23,000 people in the Atlantic provinces. Aquaculture, or fish farming, employs an additional 35,000 people. As a result, many coastal communities in the Atlantic provinces are almost entirely dependent on seafood.

“There are very few households that aren’t involved in tourism or fishing here,” said Kyla Dunphy-Williams, who lives in Ingonish, Nova Scotia. Her husband is a snow crab, lobster and halibut fisherman who works in Neils Harbour, a fishing village that was hit hard by last weekend’s storm.

“The road has been washed away. Houses have been completely demolished,” she said. “It is unfathomable that one day has caused so much havoc and destruction.”

If not for a handful of local truckers who worked late to haul the dozens of boats out of port the previous night, she said, her family’s boat would also have been wrecked.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits storm-hit Newfoundland and pledges $10 million in aid

A similar story unfolded in the Atlantic provinces, with Fiona causing significant damage to infrastructure (harbours, wharves and processing facilities), as well as boats and fishing equipment.

Even those whose boats were spared are affected, Mr MacPherson said. Many fishing boats cannot operate this week due to damage to ports. Others couldn’t go out because they couldn’t find ice to store their fish in, due to power outages.

And those who were able to get out on the water saw their catch drop significantly. The storm has sparked other food sources for fish and seafood, taking them away from the bait of fishermen’s traps.

Even before last weekend’s storm, MacPherson said, anglers were having a tough season. Operating expenses are at an all-time high, with fuel prices at an all-time high and bait shortages.

As such, many were already looking forward to the spring season to help ease the pressure. In PEI, the fall lobster season, which is drawing to a close, could bring up to 250 boats on the water. The critical spring season – which begins around May – is usually four times higher.

But weekend storm damage has now put that in jeopardy.

“How Fast Can Money Come?” said Leonard LeBlanc, President of the Gulf Nova Scotia Fishermen’s Coalition. He said federal aid in the past typically took six months to a year to roll out.

“We can’t wait that long.”

Visiting Port aux Basques, a Newfoundland town devastated by the storm, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week that the federal government will be “there for” fishermen in their recovery. But details of the federal funding have yet to be announced.

Even with funding, LeBlanc said, there will be labor issues. Dock building is a highly skilled trade, with only a few people capable of doing the job.

“PEI. is a mess. Newfoundland is a mess. Nova Scotia is a mess. And it’s all the same people fixing them,” he said.

And then there is the important question of what the reconstruction will look like.

The default position, Mr MacPherson said, would be to rebuild what was there before.

“But as the experts tell us, we can probably expect to see these events and even more serious events coming closer and closer,” he said.

And while major mitigation measures — raising bridges and other infrastructure — may be better in the long run, they’re also more expensive and likely slower.

“Obviously it’s a different scale of numbers,” Mr MacPherson said.

Mr. LeBlanc echoed this. “We have structures that are in dire need of repairs, as quickly as possible,” he said.

“But it’s not just about fixing them. It prepares them for the future environment they face.

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