Storm Fiona: Uninsured oyster farmers must absorb losses

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Storm Fiona: Uninsured oyster farmers must absorb losses

Employees of Huîtres Aquador realign oyster bags.

With displaced oyster bags, lost buoys and torn cables, oyster farmers cannot ignore the passage of storm Fiona this weekend. Whether they lost a little or a lot, they must bear the losses entirely, unable to insure their equipment while keeping their business afloat.

This gray Monday morning on the Saint-Charles River in Aldouane, New Brunswick, employees dressed in orange overalls on board boats are putting the bags of oysters back in place. The pockets are normally well aligned, but storm Fiona moved and intertwined them.

Pockets of intermingled oysters

Then, you will have to quickly try to find the pockets that have disappeared and that may be in the forest. After a few days out of the water, the oysters risk dying.

According to a provisional report, the losses of the Huîtres Aquador company are already in the thousands of dollars. A bag, including oysters and floats, is worth around $100.

But that doesn't discourage its owner, Serge Gaudet.

Serge Gaudet at the controls of his boat

This is part of the job. It's not the first time this has happened. It happens every few years. We have less serious storms, but it's something that you have to plan for as an industry, says the one who has been at the head of his company for 22 years.

The Huîtres Aquador company will have to assume all of the losses. According to Mr. Gaudet, insurance companies are charging premiums that are too high to pay and keep his business afloat.

According to many oyster farmers, it is affordable to insure equipment while it is on land. But, as soon as it is launched, insuring costs too much. They all refer to too great a risk in the eyes of insurance companies, an opinion shared by the New Brunswick Shellfish Association.

The wharf of the Huîtres Aquador company came loose and broke during the storm.

Michèle Pelletier, insurance consumer advocate believes that the number of potential insureds is also in question.

Insurance is based on risk and as they say it is the premiums of many that pay for the losses of the few insured. However, in this field, […] there would be few insured persons. This is why the premiums would be high, she explains by email.

Storm Fiona worried Jean-Marc Poirier, an oyster farmer notably established in Cocagne, who nor can it afford to insure the equipment without jeopardizing its business.

Jean-Marc Poirier

It didn't sleep too much the same. It is worrying. Then even at the time of the storm, then the next morning especially, you try to see from the coast with telescopes what is the damage, summarizes the owner of Aquaculture Sud-Est who has invested millions of dollars to expand his business and afford quality equipment.

One ​​of his cages, including the six pouches it contains, floats and oysters , can be worth around 1000 dollars.

Jean-Marc Poirier's cages

If the storm were to significantly destroy his aquaculture facilities, he acknowledges that the survival of his business would have been at stake and he would have had to bear the losses with, at least a little assistance. In addition to the difficulty of getting insurance, oyster farmers do not have a common fund in case of emergency.

There might be some help from the government if something like that would happen, he said.

Oyster farmers Jean-Marc Poirier and Serge Gaudet especially hope that they will not have to face other storms before the end of the season, with more or less a month left.

That was not a good timing. For us, this is our busiest time. So that's sure to have an effect on the final figures, explains Mr. Gaudet.

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