Digby ferry remains primary choice for fish shipments

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By Carla Allen Transcontinental Media NovaNewsNow.com The existing Digby ferry would likely still be the number one option for seafood shippers in southwestern Nova Scotia even if a ferry to Boston, capable of handling commercial trucks, was available this year or next.

Denny Morrow, executive director of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers, said he can’t conceive a Halifax-Boston ferry proposed by American Ferries Inc. as being an attractive option for several reasons. “We ship perishable fresh fish and live lobster and one of our peak shipping times is winter,” he said. “The weather on the ocean between Halifax and Boston would likely make the service unreliable due to weather-related interruptions. The vessel would have to be very large to handle the winter weather and it is questionable whether the return on hauling freight would make the operation viable.”

Shippers southwestern Nova Scotia use the Digby ferry because they can also serve the Ontario and Quebec markets from Saint John and because the ferry trip is only 45 kilometers across the Bay of Fundy. Weather interruptions are minimal on that shorter route, he said.

Shippers also use the ferry to shorten the distance to the Montreal and Boston airports during peak lobster shipping season because there isn't sufficient capacity out of Halifax. “We have an important herring processing partnership between southwest Nova companies and Connors Brothers in Black’s Harbour, N.B., and the Digby ferry is essential to making that partnership work,” Morrow said.

He added that some fish processing companies in Pubnico make deliveries of haddock and other groundfish to customers in N.B. and down Route 9 in Maine on the way to Boston. “The Digby ferry is essential to seafood shippers in this region,” he said.

Morrows is concerned the proposed Halifax ferry to Boston might bleed some seafood trucking away from the Digby ferry and make the existing ferry less viable.

The Digby ferry has been averaging between 9,000 to 12,000 trucks per year for the past several years and Morrow estimates at least two thirds of those trucks carry seafood. “Prior to the meltdown of the American housing market, when we had more forest products being hauled to the U.S.A. by transport truck, the Digby ferry route was consistently hauling about 15,000 trucks per year,” he said.

The proposal by Martin Karlsen, president of American Ferries Inc., is a serious one, said Morrow. “He has a successful track record in the shipping business; he may be able to attract non-government investors and make it work. “I would guess that he is targeting people in the Boston-New York area that would like a mini-cruise to Nova Scotia with some time ashore in Halifax and other close attractions. It seems like a different target group than the one the Yarmouth-Maine ferries have targeted,” he said.

A year-round ferry service that could handle shipping from Yarmouth to New England also faces challenges.

Morrow says many seafood companies do ‘just-in-time’ deliveries and because the

Digby ferry leaves at 4:30 p.m. it allows shippers time to process and get it to the ferry by truck.

He points out that both governments have invested heavily in the border crossing at Calais-St. Stephen. In the event of another terrorist attack, such investments may be crucial to economic survival as the new border crossing is supposed to fast track companies with CTPAT (Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism).

Because some shipments go to central Canada, including Montreal airport for airfreight, a ferry to Boston wouldn't help. “The reality is that a year-round service from Yarmouth would likely bleed some business away from Digby. Transporting trucks on a ferry during the winter is going to lose money. The question is how can we provide the transportation infrastructure that the seafood shippers need that is most reliable and likely to result in the smallest operating losses during the winter,” Morrow said.

Organizations: American Ferries, Nova Scotia Fish Packers, Connors Brothers U.S.A. Customs-Trade Partnership

Geographic location: Boston, Halifax, Montreal Ontario Quebec Saint John Bay of Fundy Pubnico N.B. Maine Yarmouth Boston-New York Nova Scotia Yarmouth-Maine New England Calais Canada

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