(Gabriola Island, December 14, 2016)
Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc has ignored serious science-based concerns and is allowing plans to anchor giant freighters in sensitive marine regions to proceed without any review or conditions to avoid disastrous damage to fish and marine mammals, charges a group of Gulf Island residents and business owners.
In a December 7th letter to Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages (GAFA) Society, Minister LeBlanc failed to address substantive concerns raised by senior scientists and environmental groups following a decision by DFO’s Fisheries Protection Program not to review or impose conditions on a proposal by Pacific Pilotage Authority, to create a commercial ship anchoring area in the Strait of Georgia along the NE coast of Gabriola Island.
“The Fisheries Minister claims that conservation and protection of Canada’s marine resources is a top priority for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, but then has decided that he will not intervene to ensure either of those things”, says GAFA Society President, Franz Gigl. “He has referred the matter back to the Minister of Transport without addressing serious science-based concerns. He has effectively washed his hands of future responsibility for the conservation and protection of a huge part of British Columbia’s marine environment.”
The Minister’s letter stated that DFO’s Fisheries Protection Program concluded that adverse impacts to marine mammals, fish and fish habitat, and aquatic species at risk can be avoided through the application of appropriate project design and mitigation measures. But GAFA has pointed out that this is disingenuous, because the project design and mitigation measures referred to are only advisory and are not conditions of proceeding with the proposal. GAFA and others have called repeatedly for further study of the area, providing evidence of independent scientists and others documenting areas in which there was a failure of modelling, under-reporting of potential harm and a lack of reliable scientific evidence.
For Gulf Islanders, this decision by DFO raises serious doubts about the assurances made by this government in its new Oceans Protection Plan.
“We are calling on this government to live up to the promises of the Oceans Protection Strategy and withdraw this proposal that could cause irreparable harm to our protected waters,” added Gigl.
More than 5,000 individual Canadians, and organizations representing tens of thousands more, have signed petitions and passed resolutions expressing serious concerns about the potential adverse environmental effects of this proposal and demanding it be withdrawn. The impacted area will be more than three times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park and would be used by ships waiting to load at Port of Vancouver.
Gabriola Against Freighter Anchorages (GAFA) Society is a grassroots organization of residents and business owners dedicated to the preservation of the marine environment of the Islands Trust Area and particularly the coastal waters and marine ecosystems of Gabriola Island. GAFA has the support of the Gulf Islands Alliance, the Dogwood Initiative, Living Oceans Society, and Communities to Protect Our Coast and has received funding from West Coast Environmental Law Association.