Alistair MacGregor column: The Salish Sea – a parking lot for freighters

All the communities around the anchorages sites are now equally sharing the pain.

The South Coast of Vancouver Island is a world-renowned peaceful and pristine marine environment that is home to many unique species and has thousands of years of important First Nations history and culture. The place we are lucky to call home is the envy of many Canadians and the destination of many tourists from around the world, who come for fishing, whale-watching, boating, water sports, and adventure. While this sounds idyllic, every paradise has its problems.

Originally designated in the 1970s and historically rarely used, the 33 bulk commercial anchorage sites off the South Coast of Vancouver Island have become a maddening frustration for many residents in the riding. According to Transport Canada regulations, International Maritime Law allows vessels — some as large as 300 metres — to have the right to navigate and anchor wherever it is safe to do so. With little to no oversight and no fee structure to govern their use, it’s easy to see their appeal for large freighters.

Over the last 10 years the number of freighters going to anchor off the South Coast of Vancouver Island and the average length of stay has drastically increased. In addition to the noise and light pollution, the parked freighters have caused serious concerns with the potential pollution of the marine environment and the species that live there. Ancient clam beds, prawns, oysters, and endangered species, such as the southern resident killer whale, are at risk of environmental impact from these vessels. The ships have also been shown to swing at anchor and there are increased risks of them coming aground.

After years of outrage in many of the communities around the designated anchorage sites, Transport Canada moved ahead and implemented the Interim Protocol for the Use of Southern BC Anchorages on Feb. 8 of this year. Among other requirements, the protocol created a voluntary policy of “equitable rotation,” which means that all the communities around the anchorages sites are now equally sharing the pain. The Interim Protocol has been extended while these anchorage sites are under review.

In September I co-hosted a roundtable with neighboring MP Sheila Malcolmson to hear about the impacts of bulk commercial anchorages in the Salish Sea from local First Nations, community advocacy groups, and local government representatives. It was clear from our meeting that First Nations were not consulted, nor did they give their consent when the anchorages were first established, and that the local environmental risks associated with the anchorages far outweigh the local economic benefits.

As Canadian trade continues to grow, it leads us to think about how we can expand it in an efficient and sustainable way without harming our precious ecosystems or our costal communities. An all-party Transport Committee of Parliament is currently conducting a study on trade corridors, and I hope to see some innovative solutions to this growing problem to protect the Salish Sea.