Nfld. & Labrador

Biologist slams U.S. vessel for running aground in Witless Bay Reserve

Seabird biologist Bill Montevecchi says it's the worst possible time to have oil on the water as young puffins and murres are waterbound, not yet flying.

Bill Montevecchi says fuel from the fishing boat killed birds in the area, wants boat skipper, owner charged

Canadian Coast Guard Environmental Response team Friday near Green Island, inside the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. (Submitted/Ian Jones)

Oil from a U.S. fishing vessel killed a number of birds inside the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve on Friday, and a seabird biologist says the boat had no business being so close to Green Island to run aground in the first place. 

"What the great concern is, I'm sure you know it, it's like all those little pufflings are going to sea. They're on the water, they don't fly, they're just swimming," said Bill Montevecchi. 

"And then all the murre chicks, they don't fly either."

"So it's the worst time that you could have oil on the water because all the birds are going and they're essentially waterbound," the scientist told CBC News. 

Montevecchi said it's tricky to tell exactly how many birds were killed by Friday's oil spill. 

"This is diesel fuel. It's lighter, so it might not show up on a bird in the way that a heavier bunker C oil would. It's a thinner oil, but it still penetrates the plumage. It still makes the bird not waterproof and it would still lead to hypothermia."

This is a look at the oil spreading over Witless Bay from the side of the Molly Bawn Whale and Puffin Tours ship Friday. (Jeannine Winkel)

The Canadian Coast Guard's environmental response team cleaned up Friday, and DFO said no pollution was reported in Witless Bay. Transport Canada is investigating. 

Montevecchi said the Eyelander, an American fishing boat, was apparently too close to Green Island early Friday morning and ran aground. 

"It spilled fuel oil out of a bilge pump, which I think it was pumping to get water out of the boat, but obviously there was a lot of fuel in that," he said. 

"My biggest concern is why there was a boat so close to the island."

Transport Canada is investigating after the Eyelander, a U.S. fishing boat, ran aground on Green Island in Witless Bay Ecological Reserve early Friday morning. (Submitted)

'So critical to protect these areas'

Provincial regulations require vessels to stay 100 metres away from those islands within the ecological reserve. Vessels can pass through; it's just "the most modest of buffers," Montevecchi said. 

"To run aground, you're obviously within 100 metres."

Bill Montevecchi says Molly Bawn Whale and Puffin Tours guide Jeanine Winkel did a wonderful job trying to save young murres in oil slicks Friday afternoon. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

"So my initial feeling is the skipper and the owner of that boat have to be charged for breaking the law about ecological reserves. …  because otherwise it might just keep happening, and it should not have happened at all," he said. 

Montevecchi says heavy penalties are the best way to ensure ships respect the importance of the province's ecological reserves. 

"Otherwise they just write it off, and, 'oh, we're so sorry.' It's so critical to protect these areas."

Seabird biologist Bill Montevecchi says a number of young murres died after being covered in diesel from a fishing vessel near Green Island in Witless Bay Friday.

CBC is seeking comment from representatives from the company that owns the Eyelander.

DFO said the Eyelander was pulled from the rocks Friday and continued under its own power to Witless Bay, where it remains. 


  • A previous version of this story incorrectly said the Eyelander was owned by Boston Sword and Tuna. The company does not own the vessel, but is one of two companies that purchases catch from the Eyelander.
    Aug 28, 2017 11:55 AM NT