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CityWest blames crabbers for interrupted Haida Gwaii internet service

Association representing Hecate Strait crabbers calls that ‘unlikely, if not impossible’
CityWest released a photo detailing a crab trap tangled with its internet cable, which runs from near Prince Rupert to Tlell. (Photo courtesy of CityWest)

CityWest has reestablished most of its service to Haida Gwaii after a month of interruptions have plagued the archipelago since Dec. 24, the company said in a Jan. 24 statement.

The internet and phone service provider said two sub-sea cables were damaged by crab traps in the Hecate Strait, though the Area A Crab Association firmly disputes the claims, calling them “unlikely, if not impossible.”

CityWest operates with an underwater fibre internet cable that reaches from Bonilla Island, just south of Prince Rupert, to Haida Gwaii.

“Our dedicated teams have successfully repaired two of these breaks along the Hecate Strait to ensure the complete restoration of your services. The repair work has been challenging due to the harsh winter conditions, but we are nearing the completion of full-service restoration,” CityWest said in a statement.

“These unfortunate events seem to only be caused by a small group of less than a handful of crabbing vessels who continue to ignore the right-of-way and directly affect connectivity for all our customers on Haida Gwaii, causing significant damages to all involved.”

The accusations have been robustly denied by the crabbing group’s president Kham Shantz, who insisted they have been accommodating to the communications company. Shantz also said the association suggested the cable be placed along the existing BC Ferries route, which crabbing vessels already avoid.

“In the circumstances, it is disappointing to us that Citywest has chosen to accuse crab harvesters of recklessly causing damage, particularly when our association has made serious and sustained efforts to improve the project, adjust our fishing activities, and propose reasonable alternatives and mitigation mechanisms,” read a statement from Shantz and the association.

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CityWest claims to have found fishing vessels disabling their Automatic Identification System (AIS) tracking beacons to avoid detection, though Shantz said all Area A vessels are under 20 metres long and are monitored by a third party, meaning they are not required to have AIS beacons active.

According to the Area A Crab Association, the harsh weather of the Hecate Strait has pushed both crab traps and the fibre cable off their regular track and into each other.

“While Citywest admits the difficulties caused by harsh winter conditions, they fail to mention that their fiber cable has been known to drift more than 80 meters away from its designated one-meter right-of-way. Much in the same way, crab traps can also be, and frequently are, moved by forces of nature,” Shantz said.

“All of these factors mean there will be natural movements to crab gear as well as the fiber cable. During consultations for the fiber line construction, our association raised these issues of concern. The association was assured by Citywest that they were mostly concerned by anchor dragging and trawl fishing, not by damage from crab traps.”

CityWest said it is looking to upgrade the cable so that fishing and crabbing cannot affect service in the future. It said they are working with North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice and Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach to make the line more secure, while the company also spoke of building a backup line in case of future disruptions.

Meanwhile, Shantz is looking for accountability from CityWest over the accusations.

“Given the numerous errors and inflammatory comments made by Citywest, our association looks forward to an apology to our harvesters and a retraction of the allegations Citywest has made against the members of our fleet.”

There are 41 vessels in the Area A Crab Association, harvesting Dungeness crabs in the region.

CityWest is owned by the city of Prince Rupert and operates in the Northwest as well as a small number of rural communities in on or near Vancouver Island.

About the Author: Seth Forward, Local Journalism Initiative

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