CARIBOU – The Northumberland Strait will be open for business in less than a week.
Northumberland Ferries is getting set to sail May 1, which also marks the first landing day of the local lobster fishing season.
“Conditions have improved tremendously this past week,” said Don Cormier, vice-president of operations for Northumberland Ferries Limited. “We just need to get the navigation aids put in place.”
The ferry service that runs between Caribou, N.S., and Wood Islands, P.E.I., makes about 3,000 crossing a year between May and December.
Crews have been back to work on both vessels, the Confederation and the Holiday Island, for about the past six weeks to do routine maintenance work in preparation for the upcoming season, he said.
Cormier said some painting has been done both on the inside and outside of the Confederation while engines on the Holiday Island are being replaced.
The Confederation, which was built at the Pictou Shipyard, will begin the schedule and the Holiday Island will come into play in June when traffic demands pick up.
Cormier said the schedule will remain the similar to other years but there has been a slight increase in fares to accommodate inflation.
He said the traffic has been steady for the past few years considering there has been a number of changes in the tourism market.
However, he said, the resumption of the Yarmouth ferry service may boost traffic levels in Caribou and Wood Islands, because that may draw in American tourists who take the ferry from Maine and are looking to tour the Maritimes.
He said the Music on Board program that involves the participation of musical artists from both Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island will continue this summer and the company is always looking for ways to enhance “the onboard experience” for its passengers.
Although he couldn’t confirm anything yet, he expects some of the entertainment will be tied in with Prince Edward Island’s 150th anniversary of confederation talks.
Meanwhile, smaller fishing vessels will also be making their way out onto the Northumberland Strait April 30 with setting day for the local lobster fishery.
Ronnie Heighton, president of the Northumberland Fishermen’s Association, said the season will start as usual on Wednesday with about 300 fishermen from the association setting their traps.
He wouldn’t speculate on prices or catches for the upcoming season, but he did say the recent harsh winter conditions may help the industry because the colder water could prevent a glut of lobsters from being hauled early in the season and flooding the market.
Last spring, fishermen in all three Maritime provinces refused to fish for at least a week because of low prices for their catches.
A Maritime panel, comprised of representatives from Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, was formed as a result of the strike to look at ways to improve the lobster industry.
As a result, a levy was recommended and it would see fishermen and the onshore side of the industry each pay one cent per pound of lobster caught to help market their product.
Heighton said government would match the money coming in, but he doesn’t expect the levy to be in place until 2015 because each provincial government needs to pass its own legislation before it can get up and running.
He said other businesses such as the beef and blueberry industry have had great success with marketing their products so he expects it will also be beneficial to the lobster industry.
However, he said, since this will all take time, the only major difference local fishermen will see this year when they head out to haul their traps is the requirement to fill out log books.
Heighton said all fishermen in the Gulf region have been given log books and are required to write down there daily catches.
“It will determine what is being taken out of the water,” he said. “The south side of Nova Scotia has been doing it now for 10 or 12 years but it is new to the Gulf side.”
He said reaction from fishermen to the log books is lukewarm, but when he asked federal fisheries minister Gail Shea about it, she said it had to be done.
“She said science was looking for it and she wouldn’t interfere because it was for science,” he said.