Frozen waterways: Lobstermen and ferries battle ice in Northeast (+video)

February's record cold temperatures mean that Maine lobstermen can't get out and iced waterways have hampered Northeast commuter ferries. 

Waterways around the Northeast are beset by ice that is more than a foot thick in some places, making life miserable for those who make their living on the water.

Scott Werner of Portland said this winter has been "a horror show" for lobster fishermen like himself. The ice has prevented him from getting his boat out to fish in recent weeks, and cut into his ability to make money in the already slow winter lobstering season, he said.

"I'm not going to risk it. I don't want to break anything," Werner said. "It's been brutal, but what are you going to do?"

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Iced waterways are a problem in other Northeast locations, such as off of Boston, where a commuter ferry carrying more than 100 passengers got delayed by about 45 minutes when it called for a tow from a tugboat due to four-foot thick ice on Feb. 20. And ice continues to disrupt ferry service in Boston Harbor. On Monday, March 2, all Hingham ferry trips were cancelled due to ice in the harbor. 

In New York, where the Coast Guard is cutting ice on the Hudson River so barges carrying heating oil, gasoline and jet fuel can reach destinations. The thickest part is in the area of Germantown and Hudson, north of New York City. In some spots the ice is a foot-and-a-half thick, Coast Guard officials said.

"The barges traveling from New York City to Albany have the most difficult time transiting through that one area, so that's where the Coast Guard is devoting its effort to keep clean," Coast Guard Lt. Ken Sauerbrunn said.

It was the coldest February on record in Portland according to National Weather Service records that go back to 1940. The frigid temperatures froze more than 10 lobster fishing boats in ice off of Portland, said Bill Needelman, the city's waterfront coordinator. Fewer fishermen have been able to pursue key food fish such as haddock and pollock, which has cut into landings at the city's fish pier and lessened activity at the Portland Fish Exchange auction, he said.

The ice also is causing damage to piers and could contribute to erosion, Needelman said. He said this year's ice likely will take a heavy toll on waterfront infrastructure in the city.

"It's a highly destructive force and we can anticipate that there will be a lot of maintenance needs and repair needs," he said.

The Coast Guard experienced an approximately two week period in February when it's ice-cutting tug, Shackle, was out cutting ice every day, Chief Warrant Officer Bob Albert said. Cutting was needed in Portland Harbor, the Fore River and parts of Casco Bay to allow for petroleum deliveries and for commuter ferries and fishing vessels to traverse the waterways, he said.

"The demand for ice breaking this year has exceeded any demands that have been placed on the Coast Guard at any time in the last ten years," Albert said.

Many cities and states in the Northeast and Midwest experienced the coldest February ever recorded. In Cleveland, the temperature was last above freezing nearly three weeks ago - when the high reached 34 degrees on Feb. 11.Since then there were 10 days with temperatures below zero - the most ever recorded during a February in Cleveland, reports Syracuse, N.Y. recorded it's coldest February with an average temperature of 9 degrees F. Bangor, Maine, also set a record with an average temperature of 6 degrees F. 


Associated Press reporter Ted Shaffrey contributed to this report from Germantown, New York.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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