NEPTUNE offline after trawler incident

A fishing trawler has damaged the Ocean Network Canada (ONC) sensor array in Barkley Sound and the extent of repair won’t be known until July.

The damage occurred on Feb. 18 in the upper slope of the Barkley Canyon, where ONC has upwards of a million dollars of equipment laid out. The project is known as NEPTUNE, and begins on the waterfront in Port Alberni.

Special sound equipment detected something large approaching it before suddenly going offline.

“The acoustic pattern was that of a trawler,” said OCN official Martin Taylor.

“The instant it (equipment) went offline, suddenly that eliminated other causes of breakdown.”

An extensive array of equipment installed in 2009 monitors earthquake, Tsunami, current, acoustic and bottom pressure.

“We don’t know if all of the equipment has been damaged or only part of it,” Taylor said.

A research vessel is scheduled to visit the site in July and officials are using the opportunity to survey damage.

The damaged area represents only 10 per cent of the monitoring assets that ONC has.

“Ninety per cent of the data we gather is still being collected 24-7,” Taylor said.

The equipment is outfitted with safety casing to withstand the elements and accidents.

Although more stringent outfitting of the equipment is an option, it has its limits.

“Further encasing may make the equipment invulnerable but it will also interfere with its function,” Taylor said.

A large cable providing Internet access is the backbone of the system.

But it is buried deep and likely isn’t damaged, Taylor said.

OCN goes to great lengths to work with the fishing community to raise awareness of what equipment is there and why.

OCN finds the Barkley Canyon a rich research area, hence the equipment outlay.

But fishers also find it a prime catch area.

A defacto two-kilometre no-go zone has until now provided a safe haven for the equipment.

“But there’s a limit to policing it,” Taylor said.

Officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada are investigating the matter.

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