Lobster fisherman Earl Crocker took this picture April 21 of the remains of one salmon cage on a site near Long Island that used to have a dozen cages on it.
FREEPORT – Earl Crocker just wants the mess from disintegrating salmon cages in St. Mary’s Bay cleaned up.
“It’s an awful mess and I don’t know what they can do now,” said the Freeport lobster fisherman. “If we’d want them in there around the fishing gear? If they’d cause further damage?”
While inspectors from the Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries were checking to see what debris was floating in St. Mary’s Bay April 22, several fishermen were busy clearing a snarl of six to eight traps entangled on a piece of large tubing from a salmon cage.
Crocker says they’ve been seeing pieces wash up the shore of Long Island for a year now.
“That site has been abandoned for a couple years and it has been beat to pieces,” he said.
At the lower site, he says only one cage is still visible above the water but he can’t say how much netting and other gear is still anchored under water; and at the upper site about three-quarters of the gear has disappeared.
“There’s 20 of us fishing along there in about four to ten fathom of water (7 to 18 metres),” he said. “It’s always washing up in there among our gear.”
Municipal councillor David Tudor says fishermen told him months ago that the cages at two sites operated by Cooke Aquaculture, were in rough shape and the fishermen were concerned about the cages coming apart.
Tudor passed on his concerns to Warden Linda Gregory who contacted Cooke Aquaculture at the end of January and told them there were concerns about potential debris.
“They were aware and said they wanted to get in and remove the cages but they were waiting for the ice and snow to clear up,” said Gregory.
Chuck Brown, a spokesperson with Cooke Aquaculture, said they had one bird stand come loose over the weekend at the Freeport site and crews were currently working to recover and remove the equipment.
“We appreciate the help of a member of the community who alerted us to the location of loose gear and we are working to recover it as quickly as possible,” he said. “As a safety precaution we have asked the Coast Guard to send an advisory to mariners.
“The remaining equipment on site is going to be removed in June as soon as lobster season is over as we didn't want to tow our equipment through lobster gear.”
Crocker suggests last summer would have been a better time to remove the aquaculture gear.
“There wasn’t any snow or ice in the bay last summer or no lobster gear to deal with,” he said. “It would have been nice if they’d done it before the winter beat it to pieces, but better late than never I guess.”
Besides the tubing, he says large metal balls, used as radar reflectors are also floating around the bay.
His nephew towed in one last month but another one, still in the bay, is dragging a large length of chain behind it.
“I don’t know where it is now, it is dragging all over hell,” he said. “We can’t do anything with it but that chain is dragging around through our gear.”
A Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture press release said department inspectors visited the site April 22 and saw loose buoys, rope and other fish-pen debris on and near the site. Fisheries inspectors confirmed the operator has begun cleaning up the debris.
"Our inspectors have been to the site and, as the operator proceeds with its cleanup, we will continue to monitor the situation and ensure that it is done in a timely manner," said Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell. "We are serious about our commitment to transparency and will continue to update the public on the situation if there are other developments."