The BC Ferries’ Queen of Nanaimo smashed into a Mayne Island dock last week, splintering parts of the pier and leaving two crew members and six of its 207 passengers with cracked ribs, concussions and other injuries—all because of a Dungeness crab trap. About 4.5 m of line, with a buoy on one end and a trap on the other, got tangled in the propeller. Though an extreme case, the accident highlights a chronic—and costly—problem.
The fleet travels through fertile Dungeness grounds, and though they don’t have specific numbers, Deborah Marshall, spokesperson for BC Ferries, says the vessels become entangled in trap lines at least once a month. “It can be serious,” she says. “But we aren’t faulting the fishermen. We’re trying to work with them.”
That isn’t always easy. While commercial fishermen in the northern part of B.C. have an association that helps co-ordinate to keep ferry lanes clear, fishermen in the south are less organized, and recreational fishermen are almost completely unregulated.
Technically, fishermen are allowed to put their traps more or less wherever they want. “Most fishermen stay out of the ferry lanes out of respect, but there are some who see that as an opportunity,” says Greg Best, owner of Cowichan Bay Seafood. He says it’s impossible to prevent all accidents, but that strictly enforcing traffic lanes can greatly reduce the amount of line getting caught in propellers. He says the Department of Fisheries and Oceans needs to meet with the fishermen and BC Ferries to set up a plan. “They just need to figure out where the main problem is,” he says, “and deal with it.”