Yarmouth route and schedule doesn't work for fresh seafood transport

Tuesday’s ferry announcement has given the tourism industry throughout southwestern Nova Scotia a cause to hope. Everyone has felt the loss of the service between Yarmouth and Maine and they are celebrating the possibility that the service may be restored next year.

But for local seafood producers, celebrations began in June when the federal government announced it was putting $60 million into a replacement for the Princess of Acadia on the Digby-Saint John run operated by Bay Ferries Ltd.

Marc Surette is the executive director of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association, which represents many of the seafood producers in this end of the province. He also is a director of the Bay of Fundy Marine Transportation Association, which is to the Digby run, what the Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership has been to Yarmouth’s. The organization is made up of industry, municipal, provincial and federal representatives and has been tasked, since its founding in 2006, to lobby for retention and refurbishment of the Digby-Saint John ferry service.

“The seafood industry has built our business around Digby and it works,” he said.

He believes that securing a new vessel for the Digby run is as important for the future of the seafood industry in southwestern Nova Scotia as the proposed Yarmouth ferry is for the tourism industry.

 “The Digby-Saint John run is the preferred route,” he said.

Pointing to a three-inch binder filled with documents, he added, “Every one of those reports say Digby is the route. Every single one.”

The Digby route and schedule offers the most cost-efficient, fastest way to get perishable fresh and live seafood to Boston. In the last 15-20 years a rich network has developed between Nova Scotian companies and businesses in New Brunswick and Maine along the truckers route to Boston.  These relationships have allowed businesses here to expand. Those relationships and business opportunities would be lost if product started being shipped from Portland.

Surette says the two services meet different needs and the region needs both – a primarily freight/transportation service out of Digby and a primarily passenger ferry that links Nova Scotia to New England.

“The bulk of our exports are live and fresh product and we need to work with that just-in-time delivery service that Digby has always provided, “ he said.

The timing is perfect for getting to Boston in time to meet all the air-freight forwarding connections. “Boats are landing as late as they can, and people are packing to the last minute,” he said, adding that to meet a 9 a.m. sailing schedule in Yarmouth trucks would be loaded 6-10 hours before, but wouldn’t get to market any earlier.

In the fresh fish business, time means everything, he says.

Though Surette doesn’t expect to see a change in the freight being hauled out of Yarmouth, he does recognize that there is potential for freight to be shipped back from the States through Yarmouth.

“Having the capacity would be a plus,” he says of the vessel being proposed to serve the Yarmouth run. The ship can handle trucks, something the Cat ferry wasn’t able to do.

“It opens the door for back hauls and there is a fair amount of wire, rope and frozen bait, mink food. There’s a whole list of product that comes back – frozen fish from Norway and China comes back here to be processed. Those could be options,” he said.

But Surette believes the Yarmouth ferry is “primarily for tourists” adding that “fish juice and Jaguars” don’t easily mix.

“We all want to see those bus tours lined up in front of the Grand again, so you can’t find anywhere to park downtown,” he said adding, that having both services operating “opens up some opportunities.”

“To see both of those ferries running will be a tremendous boost. The spinoffs could be enormous. We will finally have jobs,” he said.

By Belle Hatfield

The Yarmouth Vanguard

August 16, 2013