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Newfoundland fishers face livelihood questions after Fiona storm damage

ROSE BLANCHE-HARBOUR LE COU, N.L. — Colourful fishing stages bobbed in the water by Rose Blanche-Harbour Le Cou Tuesday as Cliff Bateman watched from his property.
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Heavy machinery clears up washed-up buildings and rubble in the harbour in Burnt Island, Newfoundland and Labrador on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Fiona left a trail of destruction across much of Atlantic Canada, stretching from Nova Scotia's eastern mainland to Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island and southwestern Newfoundland. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

ROSE BLANCHE-HARBOUR LE COU, N.L. — Colourful fishing stages bobbed in the water by Rose Blanche-Harbour Le Cou Tuesday as Cliff Bateman watched from his property.

Days earlier, the picturesque buildings that are used to land and process fish were upright before post-tropical storm Fiona swept them into the ocean by the southwestern Newfoundland town.

Bateman watched the storm toss them through the water.

"It's a big loss, I tell you that," he said from inside his kitchen. The now-retired fisherman said he stored a priceless accumulation of gear and history inside the structures that were passed down through his family, some built over 100 years ago.

"You work all your life for it, and in an hour, everything gone."

Fiona's path of destruction through Atlantic Canada heavily damaged the fishing industry and communities along Newfoundland's southwestern coast have not been spared. Fishers and property owners are awaiting word about possible government assistance and are left wondering whether it will be enough to fill the gaps.

In Burnt Islands, about a 20-minute drive west from Rose Blanche, Troy Hardy stepped off his boat Tuesday to look over the scene. Fishing stages by the community harbour were badly damaged, destroying people's workstations and spilling their equipment into the sea.

Some people, like Hardy, had less severe losses, but of the roughly nine fishers in the community, he said "it's safe to say every one of them was affected in some way."

"Everybody's livelihood is greatly impacted by what happened, to the point where you're just trying to look around and see how you're going to make it work for the upcoming season," Hardy said.

A building shared between fishers for their work and storage of their catches was badly damaged, Hardy said, on top of personal gear that was destroyed. 

On a visit to the nearby town of Port aux Basques, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised Wednesday that the federal Fisheries Department would "be there for" fish harvesters as they take stock of their losses.

But Hardy said it's unclear if any government funding will come through in time for next spring's fishing seasons. He expects people will be scrambling to salvage and source equipment before then.

"It's a big impact for the fish harvesters, that's for sure," he said. "It's very worrisome."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2022.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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