By Heidi Bevington-Sport fishing and bear hunting dominated discussion about the tourism industry at the land use planning meetings held in Sandspit and Queen Charlotte last weekend.
Many members voiced strong opposition to both types of recreation, and want the land use plan to include recommendations to stop bear hunting and limit sport fishing.
“Sickening environmental abuse,” said Vince Collison of fishing lodges’ practices. “It’s high time we get the opportunity to talk about this issue around the table because it needs to be talked to,” he said after hearing a presentation about the lodges’ contribution to the islands by John McCulloch of Langara Fishing Adventures.
Three lodge representatives – Mr. McCulloch and Rick Bourne of Langara Fishing Adventures, and Rick Grange of West Coast Fishing Club – spoke to the land use forum about the benefits of sport fishing to the islands. They estimated the lodges create 115 local jobs with a payroll of about $1.6-million and local spending of about $4.5-million.
In 2002, 18 lodges operated around the islands, with an estimated 13,300 overnight clients who caught 32,368 chinook salmon and 23,639 coho, according to a report the lodge owners shared with forum members.
Forum members thanked the three men for coming to the meeting, but several expressed strong doubts about the social and environmental responsibility of the industry. Mr. Collison urged the whole industry to make a formal presentation to the table. Gary Russ and Leandre Vigneault asked about the high numbers of fish caught and the high mortality rate associated with catch and release fishing. Mr. Vigneault also said the industry needs a local employment policy.
The three lodge reps said they were speaking to the forum as private individuals representing only themselves and not other lodge owners. They said they would like to hire locally, but it’s difficult to find adequately trained people. They said they would also like to promote more connection between their businesses and the rest of the islands, but their guests often only want to fish, and they can’t force people to do other things.
As well as hearing from Mr. McCulloch, Mr. Bourne and Mr. Grange, the forum heard from three of its own members.
Urs Thomas spoke on behalf of commercial tourism interests such as fishing lodges and guide outfitters. He presented two reports on the benefits of the sport fishing and bear hunting industries. He said the commercial tourism industry wants a healthy, sustainable industry with limited impact on the environment.
But many forum members said they wanted black bear hunting on the islands completely stopped. “I’m pretty concerned about this issue because bears are sacred to the Haida people,” said Margaret Edgars. Elsie Stewart-Burton told members that the Council of the Haida Nation is vehemently against bear hunting and working to stop it.
Several forum members wanted to make an immediate resolution to end bear hunting on the islands, which introduced a discussion of what power the forum actually has.
The forum will make recommendations that will guide land use decisions made by the Council of the Haida Nation and the province, said process facilitators Stuart Gale and Gary Reay, but the forum cannot actually make those decisions itself. For example, the forum can recommend that bear hunting be stopped, but it can’t actually ban it.
Vince Collison and Barb Rowsell presented a summary of the Heritage Tourism Strategy and eco-tourism. They suggested the strategy be adopted as part of the land use plan’s tourism recommendations.
Ms Rowsell also brought forward some concerns about the conflict between eco-tourism and other ventures like bear hunting, sport fishing, and crab harvesting. “I would like to see us using our maps to draw lines where we would like to have public access, viewscapes to be kept scenic, where we would like to see commercial sport fishing and other issues that can be best described in this way,” she said.
Delina Myles spoke for small business tourism. People told her they needed better access to capital investment, better training for potential employees, and some attention paid to the aesthetic values of the villages. “We need to make things pretty,” one woman told Ms Myles.
Terry Pratt from Lands and Water BC spoke about the tenure process that the province created in 1998 to manage commercial recreation on public land. The table members expressed concern about the cost and process of applying for tenure. The application alone can cost as much as $3,300. Lands and Water BC tries to approve applications within 140 days, but complex applications may take longer, Ms Pratt said. She acknowledged the system has some bugs, but that on the positive side, it means greater inclusion of First Nations in decisions and has brought some legislative force to the use of public land.
After hearing the presentations Thursday evening and Friday morning, the forum spent some time brainstorming the key issues related to tourism. As well as sport fishing and bear hunting, forum members said they are concerned about training, access to capital and adequate ferry service.
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