British Columbia

'Our community is not ready': Heiltsuk Nation relieved fishing lodge not opening

Fishing lodges on B.C.'s central coast have cancelled their 2020 sport fishing seasons as the Heiltsuk Nation works to keep tourists away over COVID-19 concerns.

Dispute over fishing lodge openings on Haida Gwaii continue

The Heiltsuk are not allowing visitors in Bella Bella, a community of about 1,400 people on the B.C. Central Coast, unless they are essential service workers, due to the coronavirus risk. (Michael Wigle/Central Coast Regional District)

A fishing resort on B.C's central coast has announced it won't be hosting guests for the 2020 sport fishing season.

The announcement is a relief for the Heiltsuk Nation, which asked area tourism operators to stay closed for the season due to COVID-19 concerns.

Shearwater Resort, which is located near Bella Bella, released a statement saying it is reversing an earlier decision to open.

The company cites the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in B.C., and a desire to work with the Heiltsuk to protect local residents as reasons for the decision.

Marilyn Slett, elected chief councillor with the Heiltsuk tribal council, said she is pleased by the reversal.

"We've definitely been very clear that our community is not ready for any ramped up tourism this year," she said.

Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett says her community does not have the resources to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak. (Supplied by Marilyn Slett )

Slett said the region does not have the health resources to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak, and has asked local tourism operators to remain closed for the summer in an effort to prevent people from visiting.

"We need to make sure that our communities are safe, that our communities have the adequate resources before any reopening starts," she said.

George Cuthbert is the co-owner of King Pacific Lodge, which is also located near Bella Bella.

He said they decided back in May to stay closed for the season after talking to the Heiltsuk.

"We understood their concerns ... that they wanted to prevent some sort of outbreak in their community," he said.

King Pacific Lodge decided in May not to open for the 2020 sport fishing season due to Heiltsuk concerns over COVID-19. (Supplied by George Cuthbert)

Cuthbert said guests have been very supportive of the decision when told about the closure.

"Businesses may have different logistics which they feel would allow them to safely operate. Regardless, without community support of a safety plan, we wouldn't want to operate this way on Heiltsuk territory."

Haida Gwaii tension

Shearwater's announcement comes as the debate over sport fishing tourism continues further up the coast in Haida Gwaii.

The Haida have made similar requests for tourism operators to stay closed this summer, however some fishing lodges have chosen to open.

Currently, tourism is allowed in B.C. under the province's pandemic reopening plan.

A still from an edited video circulated by a group of Haida matriarchs on July 19, 2020, which appears to show a confrontation between members and staff from Queen Charlotte Lodge. (Submitted by Haida Nation)

Resorts like Queen Charlotte Lodge say they are following all provincial regulations and are located far enough from communities that visitors won't come in contact with residents.

Members of the Haida Nation and staff at Queen Charlotte Lodge have had several confrontations since the lodge opened on July 10. 

On Tuesday, the Haida Hereditary Chiefs' Council said Queen Charlotte Lodge is no longer welcome on Haida territory.