New guidelines for vessels travelling between Kitimat and an opening to the Hecate Straight, just south of Kitkatla, aim to improve safety and decrease conflict between First Nation communities, coastal communities and commercial ships, Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport, announced jointly with the Gitga’at and Gitxaala First Nations, on Nov. 22.
The North Coast Waterway Management Guidelines came into effect Sept. 1, after three years of planning by the two First Nations and the federal government.
The guidelines include speed reductions, safety zones, recommended routes and guidance for ships passing each other. They also promote stronger communication between users while on the water.
Furthermore, in specific regions, called First Nations Areas of Concern, ships have to make sure local users can travel without concern for their safety.
Gitga’at First Nation and Gitxaala First Nation have been using the waterways adjacent to their communities, Hartley Bay and Kitkatla, for millennia, Transport Canada stated in a press release. Access to the water is an integral part of their life.
“Being able to travel and harvest our marine resources safely is paramount to our people and our culture. We look forward to continue working with Gitxaala, Canada and our other partners to implement these new guidelines,” Arnold Clifton, chief councillor of Gitga’at First Nation said.
The new regulations were developed during a pilot project of the proactive vessel management initiative. The project ran for one year, starting during the fall of 2018. B.C.’s north coast communities were one of two projects to develop and test vessel traffic management practices. The other was in the Arctic.
The Canadian government sees this project as a “Canadian success story” due to its ability to bring together Indigenous communities, the government and key stakeholders, Transport Canada said.
“The North Coast Waterway Management Guidelines represent a key milestone in advancing measures to make our marine waterways safer for Gitxaala citizens and all other mariners that travel through our waters,” Linda Innes chief councillor of Gitxaala Nation said.
“We look forward to the implementation of the guidelines and the continuation of our relationship with our other government partners. Gitxaala congratulates Gitga’at, Canada, and the other key contributors on the completion of the new guidelines.”
These new guidelines come in advance of a likely increase in vessel traffic, once the LNG Canada terminal being built in Kitimat is complete.