Veteran North Coast Fisherman Warns of Serious Navigational Risks to Supertankers


As a fisherman who has worked his whole life on the coast of BC, I have many concerns about oil tankers leaving Kitamaat (proper spelling double “a” and it means ‘people of the snow’).

All of the discussions, I have heard, have been about concerns regarding pipeline ruptures and what can happen on the land route. My concern is what will happen if there is a loaded oil tanker heading to sea and it  hits a reef or shore or breaks up causing another Exxon Valdez.

Our family has a long history in the area. My father started fishing there in the 30’s and in 1949, at the age of 13, I went out on his seine boat. In 1957 I became a Captain of a  seiner and I fished the area for over 50 years, usually from 5 -20 weeks per year. At present my son operates our family’s seiner and continues to fish this area. Our combined  family’s presence in this area is over 80 years.

I have been hired by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to participate in stock assessments for salmon and herring. In 1968 we were hired by Shell Oil Company to assist in the positioning of Sedco’s drill rig in Hecate Straits.

We have spent so much time in Fisheries and Oceans Canada designated area 6 that lifelong friends – the late Alan Hall of Kitamaat and Johnny Clifton of Hartley Bay – were made. I have seen the waterfall at Butedale frozen solid, bone dry and running so hard you could not tie up your boat.

With our family’s 80 plus years of fishing in the Whale Channel area we have firsthand knowledge of tides, weather, types of fish and bird life. The area from Kitamaat to Hecate Straits is designated Area 6, by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and is the most consistent salmon producing region in British Columbia with runs in the odd and even years.
In Area 6 there is:

  1. Within the Central coast area 128 salmon bearing streams
  2. Kitasu Bay to McInnes Island is a major herring spawning  ground
  3. All 5 species of salmon, herring, crab, mussels, clams, abalone, prawns, eulachons, pilchards, hake, geoduck, mackerel, halibut cod, pollock, otters, eagles and many birds, plus whales and porpoises
  4. Tides that fluctuate over 20 feet causing currents of up to 5 knots
  5. Being a region of heavy snow and glaciers there are very strong freshets from May to the end of July
  6. The outflow winds from Douglas Channel can be extreme during summer and winter
  7. Weather in Hecate Straits –  because of strong complex currents, waves have been recorded up to 30 metres. The highest wind gusts recorded for November, December, January, February and March is 180 -190-plus km per hour.

If a ship enters Laredo Channel from Hecate Straits at McInnes Island the tanker would have Lenard Shoal and Moody Bank at the bottom of Aristazabl Island. On the east side of Aristazabl Island there are 2 very  dangerous rocks known as Wilson and Moorhouse. Campania Sound is also a very treacherous body of water from Dupont Island to Hecate Straits.

There are many rocks and to name a few, Bortwick, Cort, Ness, Evans, Cliff and Janion also Yares Shoal. This area is a minefield of reefs. These rocks are spread out between Rennison Island, Banks Island and Campania Island. This route would be extremely dangerous to tanker traffic. Using the Otter Pass route, Nepean rock becomes a very prominent problem for ships’ travel.

Should a major oil spill occur I feel an oil boom would not be able to contain it because of the velocity of the current in this area and the oil could travel 20-50 miles in one 6 hour tide. This area is not the Mediterranean or a lagoon.
If a spill occurred in Laredo Channel the herring spawning area at Kitasu Bay to Price Island could be totally destroyed, possibly forever. The eel grass which the herring need to spawn on could be wiped out. Some years over 10,000 tons of herring spawn in this area.
A spill at freshet time would be the  most devastating. Due to the differences of its viscosity, salt water is heavier and would be lower and the fresh water being lighter, becomes a shallow layer at the surface. The juvenile salmon live in this fresh water layer as they  migrate to sea. The juvenile salmon jump like raindrops and if they were migrating in a spill area the oil could wipe out an entire run. Some streams could become barren of salmon.
I have tried to point out, so people know, the dangers of the entire marine area and what could happen if there is ever a spill. I have spent my entire life around Princess Royal Island and the vicinity.  I personally am totally opposed to the Kitamaat  terminal for oil tankers.

John Brajcich and his family have been commercial fishermen on BC’s north and central coast – where oil supertankers would pass – for some eighty years.


13 thoughts on “Veteran North Coast Fisherman Warns of Serious Navigational Risks to Supertankers

  1. No matter how much you prepare to clean up oil, be it on land or on water, you will NEVER be able to do enough or take any adequate action in the event of a spill. The best action at this point is prevention. Prevent the Northern Gateway Pipeline and any others that may follow!

  2. Mr. Brajcich, You article and life experience is priceless. I hope you or The Canadian Org would allow me to link to it.. or copy paste from it with accreditation. I have reviewed thousands of online articles related to tankers, pipelines, and the people downstream of the Alberta tar sands, as well as ‘fracking’ and deep water offshore rigs. Few of those articles really ‘take us there’ like you do.. to truly gain a useful sense of the local environment. I’m sure you’re aware that the presence of reefs, shoals, sea life, currents, extreme weather, small craft, tides in your local waters are never mentioned.. or known to, our federal Minister of The Environment, or the Fisheries Minister, or the Minister of Natural Resources, or ridiculous interest groups such as ‘Ethical Oil’? I hope to read more of your critical experience and observations in the future. Please tell me you have been able to present your knowledge to the current Northern Gateway Review underway.. or that you and other locals like you have been requested to appear.

  3. Who knows best? That man and his family. We all have to stand up and fight for what we know is right and rally against what is so, so wrong. If we don’t we will regret it all as we watch the beauty go to hell. Thank you for your 80 plus years of knowledge.

  4. This is a well written and thoughtful piece. I guess if this project goes ahead we will have to rename Kitimaat to whatever translates to “people of the black snow”.

    One does not need anything more than common sense to know that this is a ridiculous proposal from Enbridge, and our government should be pilloried for even giving it a second of consideration.

  5. I no longer recognize the beautiful country I was born in. Harper does not care that he would be permanently ruining Alberta and British Columbia. It is sad that those of us who love this country the most are labelled as radicals. It makes one wonder just who the new prisons are being built for. A bitumen spill on land or at sea would be devastating. When our country should be encouraging people to conserve, and working on green initiatives, they are wantonly selling our future and telling us dirty unsustainable jobs are a good thing.

  6. Yup experience and local knowledge replaced by some Korean tanker captain who has not got a clue as to what the hell they are doing…the Harper way..give it away until it breaks and dam the future for all time…

  7. enter your message here…
    Mr. Brajcich
    Much to think about in your article from someone who knows. I hope that it is heard. Thank you.

  8. Thank you for your contribution of these very crucial facts. As I suspect we are all about to be labeled as Eco-terrorists by our federal government because we care about our province, it is incumbent that we have all the facts about the crime Harper and friends are about to perpetrate upon us .

  9. enter your message here…Thank you for your contribution of these very crucial facts. As I suspect we are all about to be labeled as Eco-terrorists by our federal government because we care about our province, it is incumbent that we have all the facts about the crime Harper and friends are about to perpetrate upon us .

  10. let’s not forget: fog, traffic- even with VTMS …. and “The Queen of the North” – a captain and crew familiar with those waters… or perhaps another super tanker, the “Exxon Valdez” … or mechanical breakdowns.

  11. Mr. Brajcich,

    This is a chilling account of what is ahead should our environmental assessment be ignored.

    Thank you for giving us a first-hand account of what we are facing. Your commitment gives me hope and strength.

  12. Yes John its like inbound tankers full of Jet Fuel trying desperately to avoid hundreds of commercial salmon Gillnetters fishing outside and around Steveston ! A perscription for a serious accident to happen not later on , but now ! Terry Slack

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