John Brajcic's must-read account of the navigational dangers of BC's north and central coast
Read on The Common Sense Canadian
As a fisherman who has worked his whole life on the coast of BC, I have many concerns about oil tankers leaving Kitamaat (proper spelling double “a” and it means ‘people of the snow’).
All of the discussions, I have heard, have been about concerns regarding pipeline ruptures and what can happen on the land route. My concern is what will happen if there is a loaded oil tanker heading to sea and it hits a reef or shore or breaks up causing another Exxon Valdez.
Our family has a long history in the area. My father started fishing there in the 30’s and in 1949, at the age of 13, I went out on his seine boat. In 1957 I became a Captain of a seiner and I fished the area for over 50 years, usually from 5 -20 weeks per year. At present my son operates our family’s seiner and continues to fish this area. Our combined family’s presence in this area is over 80 years.
I have been hired by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to participate in stock assessments for salmon and herring. In 1968 we were hired by Shell Oil Company to assist in the positioning of Sedco’s drill rig in Hecate Straits.
We have spent so much time in Fisheries and Oceans Canada designated area 6 that lifelong friends – the late Alan Hall of Kitamaat and Johnny Clifton of Hartley Bay – were made. I have seen the waterfall at Butedale frozen solid, bone dry and running so hard you could not tie up your boat.
With our family’s 80 plus years of fishing in the Whale Channel area we have firsthand knowledge of tides, weather, types of fish and bird life. The area from Kitamaat to Hecate Straits is designated Area 6, by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and is the most consistent salmon producing region in British Columbia with runs in the odd and even years.
In Area 6 there is:
- Within the Central coast area 128 salmon bearing streams
- Kitasu Bay to McInnes Island is a major herring spawning ground
- All 5 species of salmon, herring, crab, mussels, clams, abalone, prawns, eulachons, pilchards, hake, geoduck, mackerel, halibut cod, pollock, otters, eagles and many birds, plus whales and porpoises
- Tides that fluctuate over 20 feet causing currents of up to 5 knots
- Being a region of heavy snow and glaciers there are very strong freshets from May to the end of July
- The outflow winds from Douglas Channel can be extreme during summer and winter
- Weather in Hecate Straits – because of strong complex currents, waves have been recorded up to 30 metres. The highest wind gusts recorded for November, December, January, February and March is 180 -190-plus km per hour.
- If a ship enters Laredo Channel from Hecate Straits at McInnes Island the tanker would have Lenard Shoal and Moody Bank at the bottom of Aristazabl Island. On the east side of Aristazabl Island there are 2 very dangerous rocks known as Wilson and Moorhouse. Campania Sound is also a very treacherous body of water from Dupont Island to Hecate Straits.
There are many rocks and to name a few, Bortwick, Cort, Ness, Evans, Cliff and Janion also Yares Shoal. This area is a minefield of reefs. These rocks are spread out between Rennison Island, Banks Island and Campania Island. This route would be extremely dangerous to tanker traffic. Using the Otter Pass route, Nepean rock becomes a very prominent problem for ships’ travel.
Should a major oil spill occur I feel an oil boom would not be able to contain it because of the velocity of the current in this area and the oil could travel 20-50 miles in one 6 hour tide. This area is not the Mediterranean or a lagoon.
If a spill occurred in Laredo Channel the herring spawning area at Kitasu Bay to Price Island could be totally destroyed, possibly forever. The eel grass which the herring need to spawn on could be wiped out. Some years over 10,000 tons of herring spawn in this area.
A spill at freshet time would be the most devastating. Due to the differences of its viscosity, salt water is heavier and would be lower and the fresh water being lighter, becomes a shallow layer at the surface. The juvenile salmon live in this fresh water layer as they migrate to sea. The juvenile salmon jump like raindrops and if they were migrating in a spill area the oil could wipe out an entire run. Some streams could become barren of salmon.
I have tried to point out, so people know, the dangers of the entire marine area and what could happen if there is ever a spill. I have spent my entire life around Princess Royal Island and the vicinity. I personally am totally opposed to the Kitamaat terminal for oil tankers.