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N.S. fishermen say province isn’t doing enough to cover wildfire losses

Some Nova Scotia fishermen say financial support offered by the province doesn’t come close to helping them replace gear they lost in the Shelburne County wildfire.

Kevin Doane was living in Roseway, N.S., when the fire broke out in late May. He said his losses include 100 lobster traps, rope and fishing gear. With the cost of a new trap sitting at around $300, he said he needs roughly $30,000 for traps alone.

Some fishermen are out hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.

“This is a big loss and all we’re asking for is some of the money, our tax dollars back that we’ve paid in,” said Doane.

He also said it’s difficult for fishermen to insure their gear.

A man in a ball cap stands in front of a burned out house.
Kasey DeMings is a fisherman and volunteer firefighter who lost his home and fishing gear in the Shelburne County wildfire in May. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Dan Fleck, executive director of the Brazil Rock Lobster Association, represents 538 lobster fishermen covering a swath of the province that includes Eastern Passage, the South Shore and Digby area.

If fishing gear is stored outside, he said, it’s uninsurable. It has to be stored indoors in a space that doesn’t have electricity, he said, and those conditions aren’t favourable for protecting the gear.

“I don’t know of any fishers personally that have a building large enough to store 250 to 400 lobster traps, plus all their other fishing gear,” said Fleck.

He said 17 of the association’s members suffered substantial losses because of the wildfire. And because his association only represents lobster fishermen, that number excludes people who fish for species such as cod, haddock, swordfish and tuna.

Province ‘working with the seafood sector’

In a statement, the Nova Scotia government said the impact of the wildfires continues to be felt by the seafood industry and communities in southwestern Nova Scotia.

“The province has been working with the seafood sector to better understand the ongoing impacts to their operations and to identify further needs for support,” Fisheries and Aquaculture spokesperson JoAnn Alberstat said in an email.

She said eligible licensed fish-processor and fish-buyer businesses have received support from the small business wildfire relief program.

The program’s website says it “provides a one-time $2,500 grant to help small business owners who needed to evacuate or close for at least 5 days because of the recent fires in Halifax Regional Municipality and Shelburne County.”

In Kasey DeMings' yard, a piece of ruined fishing gear shows how the heat of the fire caused metal gear to melt into a liquid state.
Heat from the fire melted metal fishing gear on DeMings’s property. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Alberstat also noted that fishermen who lost income because of the wildfire have received support through the province’s emergency relief grant for individuals. People suffering a complete loss of income can receive $550 per week for the affected period, according to the program’s website.

Fisherman Kasey DeMings said the support is inadequate.

“It’s not enough to do anything,” he said. “It really isn’t. It wouldn’t even be a drop in the bucket to start rebuilding.”

DeMings said people from across the province have contacted him offering gear to use.

Volunteer firefighters lost homes, fishing gear while fighting fires

DeMings is a volunteer firefighter whose Carleton Village, N.S., home burned down while he was out fighting fires.

Doane also lost his home while working as a volunteer firefighter.

“You have to save whatever you can possibly save — whether it’s yours, whether it’s your neighbours, whether it’s someone down the road, it doesn’t really matter,” he said.

Between fires and floods, Doane said he recognizes a lot of Nova Scotians need help right now.

“Our government should be there helping us,” he said.

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