North Cowichan has joined the growing list of local governments who are raising objections to freighters anchoring in coastal waters along the Salish Sea.
The municipality’s council unanimously decided at its meeting on Jan. 20 to allow Mayor Al Siebring to write a letter to Alistair MacGregor, MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, in support of his Bill C-250 which seeks to prohibit the anchoring of freighters in the southern Gulf Islands where the proposed National Marine Conservation Area is to be established.
The letter said the freighters pose a significant threat to the long-term sustainability of natural marine resources that are of social, economic and biological significance to the First Nations of the region, and many other people in the local community.
“If the federal government sees value in protecting the sensitive marine habitat in these waters by establishing a National Marine Conservation Area, then it logically follows that they should not be used as an overflow industrial parking lot for large freighters waiting for their turn in the Port of Vancouver,” the letter said.
In October, MacGregor introduced a Private Member’s Bill in Ottawa to amend the Canada Shipping Act to prohibit the anchoring of freighter vessels using coastal waters along the Salish Sea, especially in the area where the National Marine Conservation Area is proposed.
It’s become a long-standing issue for residents of Saltair, Chemainus, Thetis and Penelakut islands, other Gulf Islands, Cowichan Bay, Ladysmith and Nanaimo.
Some of the parked freighters are as large as 300 metres in size.
There are 33 commercial vessel anchorages located throughout the southern Gulf Islands, including six in operation in Cowichan Bay and six near Ladysmith and Saltair harbours.
In addition to the noise and light pollution, there are concerns about the impacts to the marine environment.
Repeated calls have been made by community groups and First Nations about protecting clam beds, prawns, oysters and endangered species, such as the southern resident killer whales, from the environmental impact of the anchored shipping vessels.
After a presentation by Peter Holmes, president of the Cowichan Bay Ship Watch Society, in July, 2019, the Cowichan Valley Regional District decided to send a letter to federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau urging the federal government to take a close look at the use of commercial vessel anchorages that are located in waters near the district.
Last November, shortly after MacGregor introduced Bill C-250, Cowichan Tribes also joined the fight to prohibit freighters from anchoring in local coastal waters.
“Tanker traffic and anchorages in these inside waters and narrow passages between islands pose an unacceptable risk to the ecological integrity that sustains our food resources, which are critical to the long-term livelihoods and well-being of our members,” said Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour at the time.
In a letter to North Cowichan that prompted the municipality to write a letter of support, MacGregor said he is encouraged by the widespread support that Bill C-250 has already received among local stakeholders.
“Moving forward, I humbly ask for your support as we continue to put pressure on Transport Canada and Transport Minister Marc Garneau to end the practice of using our pristine coastal waters as an overflow industrial parking lot,” MacGregor said.