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Port's new shipping lane rules frazzle Fraser River paddlers

New marine traffic zone excluding non-motorized vessels could come to Fraser River's south arm
channel
A kayaker in Steveston Channel, off Shady Island. Photo by Niko Van Brandt.

Richmond paddlers using the likes of kayaks and canoes on the south arm of the Fraser River are hoping to avoid a conflict with Port of Vancouver, such as the one that occurred last year in Burrard Inlet where a ban on non-motorized vessels was implemented.

Presently, the issue appears to be communication, or lack thereof, between paddlers and port officials, who are proposing to amend the Canada Marine Act to establish a new, wider shipping lane, or “traffic control zone” from Sand Heads to New Westminster.

According to port documents, the new zone restricts vessels to those with “adequate mechanical power” only. The zone is also expansive and includes popular Richmond and Ladner inlets and channels. 

Tony Dales, owner of Steveston-based Kaymaran Adventure Tours Inc., and others have taken it to mean there will be a ban on paddlers from hugging the shoreline, crossing the river and meandering through channels.

Not so, says port spokesperson Danielle Jang, who appears to have alleviated some initial concerns from paddlers by noting non-motorized vessels may still use and cross the south arm. 

Jang told the Richmond News the port is essentially formalizing existing marine traffic regulations on the river into a policy.

“What’s key is none of this info is new. It’s bringing awareness to laws and marine charts that exist, so people know where the transit route is. We want to show people where deep sea vessels can transit,” said Jang.

Proposed amendments by the port provided in February for a 30-day public feedback process (email Navigation.Review@PortVancouver.com) indicate, however, only two classes of vessels — big ships and small crafts — without including paddle boats.

Jang said the port has heard the concerns of groups such as the Share the Fraser Coalition, which is hoping for more dialogue.

Jang said the port will be “providing further clarification within the Port Information Guide concerning paddle boarders and kayakers, specifically as it relates to operating in and around the” new zone.

She also said best practices to hug the shoreline can still be followed.

Dales said what Jang told the News was promising, although the “proof is in the pudding.”

“The Fraser River is a historic, heritage water route. It is not appropriate to block human-powered vessels from this river. Adequate safety for navigation can coexist with recreational use,” argued Dales, in his public feedback submission.

A similar saga took place in 2017 when the port tried to ban paddlers along Stanley Park, but later reversed course by reducing the restricted zone.

Regardless of the outcome, Dales said he’s not aware of any rash of incidents or conflict between ships, boats and paddlers on the river that would prompt a Burrard Inlet-type ban.

“When deep sea traffic is traveling up the river we have to, of course, do everything the port needs for everyone to be safe,” said Dales.