Battle for B.C.’s north: Salmon vs. Tankers

The attempt to revive Northern Gateway now, despite the promised oil tanker moratorium, is particularly disheartening


Most northerners thought Enbridge’s Northern Gateway diluted bitumen pipeline proposal was dead. Their National Energy approval was expected to expire on December 31 this year. However, unable to meet deadlines, they have applied for a three year extension.

Not only that, but Enbridge is reported to be looking at alternate endpoints for Northern Gateway, including Prince Rupert, which was initially the company’s second choice after Kitimat. The National Energy Board confirms that Enbridge could apply for a variance to change the pipeline corridor and Kitimat terminus, which were approved by the Harper cabinet in 2014.

At the same time, Justin Trudeau maintains that B.C.’s North Coast Great Bear Rainforest is no place for a crude oil pipeline and has mandated his Fisheries Minister to “formalize the moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on British Columbia’s North Coast, including the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, and Queen Charlotte Sound.”

Rupert, at the mouth of the Skeena River, is at the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. Any alternate North Coast pipeline corridor would have to traverse the Great Bear and would put oil supertankers into its waters, some of the richest commercial and sport fishing waters in the world.

Enbridge Northern Gateway’s original pipeline and tanker proposal produced one of the greatest public outcries in recent history. The attempt to revive Northern Gateway now, despite the promised oil tanker moratorium, is particularly disheartening.

The 27th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill was in March. The spill devastated the community of Cordova, Alaska and Prince William Sound with an oily legacy that persists to this day. Coincidentally, Canada’s planned tanker moratorium area generally matches the length of coastline oiled by the Exxon Valdez spill. The Exxon Valdez oil spill continues to be a sobering reminder that accidents happen, clean-up is impossible, and the environmental and economic impacts last for decades.

Worse yet, the Prince Rupert Harbour lies right in the estuary of the Skeena River. Oil terminals are plagued with accidents; it is not the kind of industry to put in a salmon nursery area.

One of the last large undammed rivers in Canada, the Skeena supports five Pacific salmon species. It has yielded some of the biggest Chinook and steelhead ever recorded. Its fish feed numerous First Nations, and supply sport and commercial fisheries valued at $110 million annually.

Prince Rupert is a fishing town and always has been. There is evidence of a large ancient First Nation community there dating back over two thousand years. Ridley Island is only two kilometers from one of the best commercial salmon fishing spots in the world.  Most Canadians have eaten salmon caught and canned in Prince Rupert.

Skeena salmon are extremely important for supplying nutrition, especially Omega-3 fish oil. To fuel their long journey upriver to spawn, Skeena sockeye have one of the highest levels of Omega-3 fat in the world. Ocean caught Skeena sockeye have an amazing 11.5 per cent fat content, double the USDA North American average for sockeye. And salmon are just part of the billion meals of wild seafood B.C.’s clean waters produce each year.

To be sure, the crafting of a ban on oil tanker traffic will be complex and require consultation with the United States and coastal communities. Another complexity is the definition of oil: tar sands bitumen can be diluted, partially refined and given fine sounding names by industry. The fact remains that it is all largely harmful to fish and marine life.

A permanent, legislated oil tanker ban for Canada’s northwest coast is the best way to protect our abundant, spectacular coast from the threat of catastrophic oil spills. We look forward to seeing tanker ban legislation passed into law. For Skeena River salmon it can’t happen soon enough.

Dawn Remington, Luanne Roth

Friends of Morice Bulkley

Prince Rupert Environmental Society

Smithers, Prince Rupert


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