Gabriola Island is one of those places where people live a quiet life and the problems associated with big cities and big industries seem far away. However that has all changed as the Pacific Pilotage Authority has a proposal in place that has the residents of Gabriola and their supporters in a fighting mood. The Pacific Pilotage Authority Canada has applied to allow five large coal-carrying freighters to anchor along the eastern shore of Gabriola Island from south of Orlebar Point to just north of the entrance to Silva Bay. According the Pilotage Authority website their mandate is “to provide safe, reliable and efficient marine pilotage and related services in the coastal waters of BC including the Fraser River”. Each anchorage site impacts a circular area of water with a diameter of approximately a thousand feet (See the Google earth map and the overlaid anchorage sites).
The residents of Gabriola were first alerted to the proposal by an article in the local newspaper the Gabriola Sounder. Bob Meyer, an island resident and long time charter fishing operator, along with other residents reacted immediately by organizing a protest sail past, under the name of Anchor RAGE, over the affected waters. It involved sixty boats, twenty kayaks, about three hundred residents who watched from the shoreline and amazingly a pod of endangered killer whales that showed up at the same time and actually led the shoreline procession. The event was covered by local and regional TV media and included an interview with Kevin Obermeyer who is the president and CEO of the Pacific Pilotage Authority. In responding to questions Obermeyer stated that the proposal was in its infancy and that the department of Fisheries and Oceans approvals would be necessary. Support for the residents has grown rapidly. The Vancouver Island Region of the BC Wildlife Association, with ten thousand members, has sent a strongly worded letter to Obermeyer in opposition to the anchorage proposal. The Sport Fishing Institute, Sport Fishing Advisory Board, and the guiding communities around Nanaimo and Vancouver have all become involved; and it will be raised at the next Transport Canada Recreational Boating Advisory Committee meeting.
Those who are opposed to the anchorage proposal cite a lengthy list of complaints. All are in agreement that there is no reason why this pristine Gabriola shoreline should be turned into an “industrial parking lot” to compensate for the inadequate coal port receiving facilities located across the Strait at Delta. They also point out that they are already putting up with large vessels anchoring on the northwest side of Gabriola and have no intention of allowing this to happen on the eastern shoreline. For the shoreline residents issues such as noise and visual pollution along with the potential for oil and bilge water spillage and the associated shoreline damages rate as significant concerns. However there are many other equally valid issues. Bob Meyer, owner of Silver Blue Charters, is perhaps the most recognized charter operator in the area and he has an intimate knowledge of the value of the areas marine resources. Bob notes that the proposed anchorage sites exactly overlay one of the best year round sport fishing tacks in the Nanaimo region. The stretch of water between Whalebone and the Grande is heavily used by local anglers and fishing guides from Gabriola and Nanaimo as well as resident and guided fishing trips crossing the Strait from Vancouver. The affect of the proposed anchorage sites would disrupt the entire fishery along the shoreline simply from the presence of these large ships not to mention what might happen if an oil spill or accidental bilge discharges were to occur. The near shore waters also support extensive recreation and commercial crab and prawn fisheries, and Thrasher Rock is one of the best lingcod areas in this portion of the Strait. Many are also voicing concerns about the potential for damage to the sea floor from anchoring. The area has important eel grass beds and some glass sponge reefs. It is also part of the migration route for Fraser River chinook salmon runs, and is frequented by seals, sea lions and killer whales. If you wish to add your support to the Anchor RAGE movement you can email your concerns to Kevin Obermeyer, CEO of the Pacific Pilotage Authority at firstname.lastname@example.org. or contact the Department of Fisheries and Oceans directly. If you want to support the public movement against allowing coal and container ships anchoring along the Gabriola shoreline you can sign a petition by going to www.gabriolaanchorrage.org.