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Nova Scotia fishermen on the hook for gear destroyed by historic wildfires

A water bomber plane flies through heavy smoke as an out-of-control wildfire in a suburban community outside of Halifax quickly spread, engulfing multiple homes and forcing the evacuation of local residents on Sunday May 28, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese A water bomber plane flies through heavy smoke as an out-of-control wildfire in a suburban community outside of Halifax quickly spread, engulfing multiple homes and forcing the evacuation of local residents on Sunday May 28, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
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A volunteer firefighter who battled one of Nova Scotia's biggest wildfires must now shell out thousands of dollars to replace the fishing gear he lost to the flames.

Kevin Doane says the fire that burned more than 200 square kilometres in southwest Nova Scotia in late May and June destroyed about $61,000 worth of his lobster fishing gear. Doane is one of 17 fishers who lost a combined total of about $1 million in gear when the historic blaze ripped through Shelburne County.

"It's a big expense," he said in an interview Friday. "Some guys lost their houses, their buildings, and all their fishing gear. But we'll figure it out."

Doane says local volunteer firefighters battled the blaze non-stop for three consecutive days before getting relief from nearby fire departments. "It was a monster," he said. "Pure hell. It just roared when it came at you, and you just had to get out of its way."

He realized on the third day that his equipment in Roseway, N.S., had been damaged.

Aside from the physical demands of fighting the monstrous fire, the emotional effects were just as devastating, Doane said.

"It took a toll on a lot of the firefighters," he said. "It's still emotional to talk about it, when you see so much stuff being destroyed."

A single lobster trap costs around $300, Doane said, adding that some fishers have been quoted as high as $180,000 to replace gear.

Fishing gear is often uninsured because it's stored outside, as few fishers have access to buildings large enough to fit all of their lobster traps, ropes and buoys.

Recently, the Nova Scotia government announced a $2,500 grant for aquaculture operators, harvesting businesses, and licensed fish buyers and processors affected by the wildfires.

But Dan Fleck, executive director of a local lobster association, says that money "doesn't even scratch the surface" of what fishers need. The fishing industry "makes the economic wheels turn" in Nova Scotia, he said in an interview Friday. Captains who were impacted by the fires fish for many different species, including lobster, herring, bluefin tuna and halibut, he added.

"The $2,500 offered by provincial government is welcomed, but it's unfortunate that it's woefully inadequate."

A gear donation day is scheduled for the end of August in Ingomar, N.S., where people can drop off good-quality fishing gear to help their fellow fishers be ready for the season.

The lobster season for part of the region begins at the end of November, Fleck said, but fishers need weeks to prepare, so "time is of the essence."

Doane, a lobster fisherman of nearly 50 years, equates the $2,500 grant to "a really big insult."

"If that's what they're going to offer us, they can keep it," he said. "Everybody pays taxes, so we're all really asking for a little bit of our tax dollars back to help us out. We don't want any special treatment."

Opposition Leader Zach Churchill has called for the province to cover the full $1 million in lost gear.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Steve Craig said the province wants to work with the federal government to help cover uninsured losses.

"We're advocating for assistance where we can," Craig said. "Our department and province have not stopped looking at ways to assist."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2023.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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