The sinking of the Queen of the North is creating a ripple effect which threatens to swamp Masset’s tourism and fish packing industries, council members said Monday night (March 27).
At the moment, all ferry service has been suspended, but it is supposed to resume in mid-April once the Queen of Prince Rupert is reconfigured and recertified.
But with only one northern vessel left, there are rumours in Masset that BC Ferries will stay on its winter schedule of three sailings per week all summer this year, instead of the usual six.
“If they go to a winter schedule in the summer, it will have a dramatic effect,” said mayor Barry Pages, warning that it will cut in half the number of tourists who come here and put the islands’ blossoming tourism industry back 10 years. “If this is the case, it’s going to be ugly for tourism.”
But Gerry Stevens, who owns a bed and breakfast and charter operation in Masset, told council members that’s exactly what BC Ferries told him Monday when he called to see what the corporation’s plans are for summer service.
Mr. Stevens said he’s invested thousands of dollars in the past few years in his business and on advertising, and cutting off the flow of tourists will be a disaster.
“It’s going to kill us,” he said.
Council members voted to write an immediate letter to BC Ferry Services, explaining the effect the Queen of the North incident is having on the Charlottes, and asking them to listen to local communities as they come up with a short-term and a long-term plan to deal with the loss.
Right now, there are many people who simply can’t leave the islands at all, because they can’t afford air fare and that’s the only route left, said councillor Brent Buell.
The fish processing industry is also affected by the suspension of ferry service, councillor Ed Woode said. The two fish plants in Masset – which employ approximately 160 people – ship their product out in refrigerated trailers on the ferry. Mr. Woode said he was concerned that the fish will end up being processed somewhere else if our transportation links falter.
Mr. Woode also said he was worried that the Charlottes are falling “off the radar” for the decision-makers in Victoria. People just don’t realize how isolated the islands are, he said: “They talk about the coastal communities but they kind of forget about the Charlottes.”
Another concern in Masset is the barge route chartered by BC Ferries. The barge bringing commercial trucks with groceries and supplies to the islands is coming into Queen Charlotte, but Mr. Pages said it makes more sense to land the barge in Masset.
“I was shocked to hear they’re going in there,” Mr. Pages said, pointing out that Masset is significantly closer to Rupert than Queen Charlotte is. “You’d think they would be wanting to get as many barges back and forth as efficiently as possible… The problem is, you have people in Victoria making decisions.”
Sending barges to Masset instead could save 40-percent on fuel and time, he estimated.
Masset’s letter will also invite BC Ferries chief executive David Hahn to come to the islands. The letter will be sent as soon as possible.
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