Dumping ballast water into prime fishing grounds not OK, says fisherman

·3 min read
Todd O'Brien/CBC
Todd O'Brien/CBC

Dismay and anger.

Fisherman Roy Murphy of Long Harbour recalls both of those reactions as he watched a large chemical ship, the MTM Tortola, unload its ballast water into the Placentia Bay harbour on Jan. 13.

Murphy says he caught the discharge of seawater — which is sucked into a ship's ballast system to keep it stabilized, and offloaded when the vessel no longer needs it — just as the ship unloaded onto mining company Vale's wharf.

It happened a short distance from his home.

"It's the first time I've seen that done," he said. "I went over to watch it. I couldn't believe it, about a 12-inch hole, a seacock [valve], whatever you want to call it, just steady pumping out ballast for two days."

Murphy, who fishes herring in the bay, says one harvester just caught over a million pounds in the last few days, some of it within 300 metres of where the ballast was offloaded.

He's concerned because ballast water can contain invasive species.

"We got a very delicate ecosystem here," he said. "The herring are just swimming around that ship, swimming around that dock, hundreds of tons."

Murphy says he contacted Transport Canada, who told him the ballast water had been treated.

Feds say ballast water is safe

In response to a CBC inquiry, a Transport Canada email says the MTM Tortola uses an internationally-approved ballast water management system, which "treats the ballast seawater using a process on intake and discharge, filtering out invasive organisms."

Transport Canada says ultraviolet light renders any remaining organisms harmless.

Murphy says he worked as a wheelsman on Great Lake cargo ships in the 1970s, and understands how ballast systems work.

"You don't pump out ballast when you're offloading. You pump in ballast to stabilize the ship."

Transport Canada responded to that assertion saying it's not uncommon to see vessels in port having to ballast or de-ballast, "depending on its condition of loading or unloading, in order to control the vessel's structural integrity, to counteract any internal stresses."

Murphy isn't convinced and wonders how Transport Canada can be sure the water is safe. He says the harbour already has a number of invasive species.

"There we have the green crab, the purple tunicate, lamprey. Stuff that we don't need, you know," he said.

Transport Canada says in most cases they receive a vessel's ballast water logbook by email, which is reviewed by an inspector.

In this case, the regulator confirmed it had "reviewed the vessel's certification and ballast water record book, prior to its arrival at Long Harbour."

The department says it advised the MTM Tortola there were no restrictions on discharging the ballast water.

Murphy remains skeptical that the volume of water he observed can be properly monitored and treated, and thinks ships should release the water away from local fishing grounds.

"Why don't you pump the damn stuff out in a couple of thousand feet of water? Why do they have to wait till they come into the bottom of Long Harbour, the furthest place in, and pump out this damn ballast that could be polluted with anything?" he asked.

CBC contacted Vale for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

"I'm wearing a red coat. My coat was red, my face was red. It just drove my blood pressure to the hilt," says Murphy.

"This has to be stopped, because I'm not a happy camper right now."

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