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Swissair Tragedy

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Finances last concern of fishermen impacted by Swissair catastrophe

Mark Roberts
Lighthouse staff

 COUNTY - Aspotogan Peninsula and St. Margarets Bay fishermen are more concerned with the victims of Swissair Flight 111 than lost fishing time.

 Blandford resident and New Harbour fisherman David Jollymore says, "I'd like to get fishing in the near future, don't get me wrong, but you have to realize it wasn't an accident of choice and everyone feels so bad about it. No one caused it and 229 people lost their lives and the clean-up isn't done yet, so, to me, as a person, to start thinking about my own needs, I feel would be somewhat selfish."

 Mr. Jollymore says area fishermen may ask the federal Department of Fisheries to establish a no-fishing zone at the crash site for a year to 18 months out of respect for the families of the victims of Swissair Flight 111.

 "I think in this area most of our fishermen would be more than willing, even after the site is cleaned up, to have the Department of Fisheries mark off a one mile zone where the crash zone is designated as a no fishing area. We think this will show the fishermen are sympathetic to the crash and what it caused."

 He adds navy divers are telling fishermen they expect the salvage and clean-up operation will be completed before the end of October.

 Mr. Jollymore can't fish because he works within an exclusion zone established by the military that surrounds the crash site. "Our boats are actually closer to the crash site than anyone else. We usually gillnet and mackerel fish until lobster fishing time. I hope to get out early this week if they lessen the search area a little bit."

 "Down the road," he says, he'd like to see fishermen compensated, once the losses are totalled. Swissair presented a publically undisclosed offer last week to cover the short-term needs of fishermen impacted by the disaster. A long-term package is still to be negotiated between the provincial and federal governments and the airline company. The provincial government will not directly compensate fishermen.

 Mr. Jollymore says many fishermen and residents, including himself, have been literally walking around in a daze, trying to cope with the enormity of the crash. "You feel like someone, some day is going to pinch you and wake you up. It's only the last few days I started thinking about the loss of fishing."

 Although fishermen are experiencing financial hardships, the 40-year industry veteran says, they will survive. "We're getting by. Everybody helps everybody. That's the way fishermen are. That's the way we've lived and will always live. That's why so many fishermen went out when the plane went down."

 John Levy, secretary-treasurer of the South Shore Gillnet Fishermen's Association, says he finds it difficult to talk about fishermen's issues due to the scope of the disaster and the hardships it caused family members of the passengers and crew of the Swissair Flight 111.

 "There are fishers that are definitely affected by this and there are some - not everybody - that should be compensated."

 In the short term, he says, the financial consequences are minimal, especially since the exclusion zone was reduced in size last week to the point where most fishermen in the region are working again. Those hurt by the disaster, he says, work close to the exclusion zone. He adds he is not unhappy with Swissair, who have met with representatives in this area. "They are trying."

 The primary concern now for fishermen is harvesting mackerel for use as lobster bait. However, tuna fishermen, he says, were hurt by the disaster.

 Robert Conrad, president of the St. Margarets Bay Tuna Association, agrees. "The disaster occurred simultaneously with the arrival of the fish, which would have been our peak season. It's now wanning, so we have taken significant losses."

 At the first of September, he says, tuna are more plentiful and fishermen receive higher prices for their catch. "There were significant numbers landed (before the September 2 crash) which indicated we have been taking severe losses. We had one of the fastest starts to the season but we understand the nature of the accident and willingly assisted when we could and stayed out of the way when desired."

 He says members of the fleet, which numbers approximately 90, are hoping they won't experience a repeat of last year's season, when the large fish migrated out of the area near the end of September. "Each day a few fish are caught. If we can maintain the catch into October, then the season will be modestly successful."

 All, but two to four members of the fleet, he says, who normally fish near the exclusion zone, are now working again. "For most of the fleet, fishing is open again, for which we are very thankful. We're thankful for Swissair coming to understand - at a meeting we had last Sunday (September 13) - the situation that has been created primarily for tuna fishermen in the area." He adds officials from Swissair have been, "very responsible in their approach to the disaster and how it pertains to the fishery."

 Mr. Conrad says he recently received a letter from a, "stranger" in Ontario thanking him and other fishermen for their sacrifices. He says the letter demonstrated to him what is most important. "The fishermen that night participated in an event they never want to participate in again which has left scars that will last forever. The economic scars are minor in comparison."

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