By Heather Ramsay-“There are good lodges and bad lodges,” says Rick Grange, co-owner of the West Coast Fishing Club, an outfit with three land-based lodges and one floating lodge on Haida Gwaii.
Mr. Grange is responding to the attempts by the regional district to implement a two per cent special tax on fishing lodges in northern Graham Island – a tax he doesn’t agree with.
Over the months there have been a number of stories and letters about this topic, but not a peep from the sportfishing lodges. The Observer wanted to hear what managers and owners had to say. Of the five contacted, Bob Wright of Oak Bay Marine Group and Dwayne Foerter of Queen Charlotte Lodge did not respond by deadline.
Those we reached were happy to speak their minds about what they feel is a frustrating topic.
Brian Clive, president of West Coast Resorts, is against the tax, but he believes the 2,200 loyal clients who visit his resorts represent an untapped opportunity for islanders.
He understands the frustration locals must feel with lodges flying plane loads of guests in and shipping plane loads of fish out. His guests see about 40 feet of tarmac in Sandspit before they are flown out to lodges in Port Louis, Tasu and Englefield Bay.
Mr. Clive also admits he doesn’t buy his supplies on island due to cost efficiencies of buying in bulk.
“We have planes and space on planes and we need [produce and other supplies] fresh,” he says.
He thinks there are limited ways his business operations can add value to the community. He has hired 18 local people out of 53 staff and provides his clients with the opportunity to buy locally made gold and silver jewellery. The company also provides a $10,000 grant to the Skidegate Band Council and a $5,000 scholarship to any band member who would like to pursue post-secondary education.
Mr. Clive would rather see the community come to him with well-thought out proposals about how to add value to the experience of his hard-won clients. He would be happy to connect with operators who wanted to add local tours and activities to his clients’ three day trips.
“I’m all for working with the local community and I think the local community has to accept some responsibility for dealing with the lodges to suggest what it is we could jointly do.”
That said, other lodge owners have found opportunities to give back to the community through their daily operations.
Bob Meneice of the floating Samson Lodge in Naden Harbour says he gets the bulk of his food and supplies from the co-op in Masset. His customers are transferred to the lodge by boat, giving him the opportunity to come to town two to three times a week.
“Everything but lettuce and tomatoes. You can’t afford to buy them in the Charlottes,” says Mr. Meneice.
Mr. Grange also articulates a variety of ways he has tried to give back to the Islands over the years.
He buys as much as he can locally and, as a homeowner on Tow Hill Road, even grows things like raspberries to use in his lodges’ kitchens. He is also building a hanger at the Masset airport to help him amass goods to cater to the 3,000 affluent clients a year who come to his resort.
But Mr. Grange says his first priority has always been to put more fish back in the sea than his clients have taken. To this end, he collects five dollars for each fish his clients kill and matches it, which goes into a fund he set up called the Queen Charlotte Islands Salmon Unlimited.
Mr. Grange recruited his neighbours at Langara Island Lodge to participate in the program as well, and together they have raised around $600,000 in the last six years. This goes into local salmon enhancement programs on the north island, including managing a hatchery, repairing fish ladders and restoring access to creeks that cross the highway.
Mr. Grange, whose Langara Island Lodges are on taxed private property, thinks it is unfair to penalize all lodges with a further two percent tax, when it is really aimed at those lodges who do not pay for leases or other taxes.
He is unhappy about the lodges in the area that don’t pay for leases, don’t employ locals, take the fish and leave. Most infuriating for him is that his customers sometimes book into these other places by mistake, due to the myriad of similarly named businesses.
Mr. Clive acknowledges the $3,000 he pays to Land and Water BC for a lease on the west coast of the islands is not relative to the economic value of the activity he is engaged in.
“For there not to be spin-off benefits in the community. It is kind of criminal,” he says.
He calculates a two percent tax on his gross revenue for his four-month operation would add up to $140,000 a year, but he doesn’t think handing that money to the regional district for tourism initiatives is the right way to go.
“We are the experts. We have gone to the trade shows. . . We don’t need an economic fund to find out how to get people to Haida Gwaii.”
According to Eric Kristenson of the Sportfishing Institute, an industry lobby group, the sportfishing industry already spends $2-3 million on marketing the Queen Charlotte Islands as a destination. Mr. Grange, for example, has 30 second ads on 35 half-hour episodes of a popular fishing show on TSN. He has produced seven, one-hour documentaries over the years including one aerial panorama over the Islands.
For his part, Grange would rather see governments put more effort into ensuring all lodges are properly leased, taxed and regulated.
“There has to be a level playing field and a code of conduct,” he says.
The problem with this theory is no one government department handles the sport fishing industry and none of the many interested departments appear to have budgets to monitor the situation on the rugged coast.
Mr. Grange goes as far as to advocate for a point system that would support the good lodges and punish the ones who do nothing to support the local economy.
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