Prince Rupert regional district directors used their weighted votes June 20 to approve a $5,000 grant for a seafood processing project, despite the objections of several other directors.
The project, spearheaded by the Prince Rupert economic development commission, would vastly expand the range of fish processing available in Rupert. In addition to processing facilities, the proposal calls for feed production and storage facilities, net cage cleaning, building and repairing facilities, and a reduction plant.
Right now, Rupert mayor Herb Pond said, most fish caught on the north coast end up being loaded into trucks and driven to Vancouver.
“We are watching our jobs being trucked out of town,” he said at the most recent regional district meeting, held last month in Queen Charlotte. “We need to rethink our processing industry, and this is aimed at that.”
Other directors said they were wary that the proposal indirectly supports fish farming, but Mr. Pond responded that the facilities could also be used to process wild salmon.
“I will not stand by and watch the destruction of our processing industry,” he said during the lengthy debate about whether the regional district should support the project. “We have massive opportunity in front of us to be the processing capital of the north coast.”
To refuse the grant request because of concerns that the proposal encourages fish farms, he said, is “like saying you can’t gillnet because you might catch a steelhead.”
According to information about the project provided by the economic development commission, the industrial park is poised to take advantage of a rash of salmon farms expected to start up on the north coast. It would be built on the site of the J.S. McMillan Fisheries plant, which was destroyed by fire in December, and would help get the 120 employees back to work who lost their jobs as a result of the fire.
Queen Charlotte director Carol Kulesha, Area D director Ian Lordon, Area A director Maria Parks and Area C director Karl Bergman all voted against the grant.
“I can’t support farmed fish,” Ms Kulesha said. “The way fish farming is done today, I think we are going to be very sorry in the future about what is being done to the environment.”
Although the final vote was four in favour, four opposed, the two Prince Rupert directors’ votes count for more than other directors on financial matters, so the $5,000 grant was easily approved.
The first stage of the project is a $200,000 feasibility study, which will mostly be spent on engineering and design fees. Prince Rupert has already approved $20,000 towards the project, and grants are expected from Port Edward and the Tsimshian Tribal Council. The economic development commission is also hoping for funding from the federal government.
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