The Skeena River is one of the last major intact salmon ecosystems in the world, providing more than $110 million annually in related economic benefits to northwest communities, says one of 47 fishing guides, fishing lodge owners and others connected to the angling industry here who do not want the federal government to approve Lelu Island as a site for a planned LNG plant and terminal.
The group has made its point known in a letter submitted to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) which is to submit a report to federal cabinet ministers for a decision on accepting or rejecting the Pacific NorthWest LNG proposal.
Andrew Rushton, who has owned Kalum River Lodge for 28 years, says that long before Flora Banks and Lelu Island became common names in the debate over the Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal location, he knew that the tidal area at the mouth of the Skeena is a crucial nexus of juvenile fish and other aquatic species and thus important to local economies and the greater ecosystem.
“We were just surprised it went as far as it did,” he says of the environmental review already completed by the provincial government and nearing its end at the federal level.
“Really, we thought that would be shut down because Lelu Island has been closed for development [in the past]. This is really a jewel of the world, this marine area in front of Lelu Island should be protected.”
The letter, released March 9, echoes another one signed by more than 130 aquatic and salmon scientists, also released March 9, stating the location has long been considered a poor spot for large industrial development because of the rare salmon habitat adjacent to it.
But the letter from the guides and fishing lodge owners and others in the angling industry also states the economic case for not allowing projects which could hurt the second largest salmon river in the country.
“My big concern is to risk all those jobs up here that can go for perpetuity,” said Rushton. “Terrace and all these communities rely on tourism and all the ecosystems that are tied into the Skeena River.”
“To jeopardize that would be a betrayal of trust to future generations.”
The letter refers to a SkeenaWild Conservation Trust report that found the fishing and related industries brings in $110 million annually to the region, meaning that over years this equates to a billion dollar industry similar in economic scope to an LNG plant in the long term.
“As a part of our tourism economy, these salmon bring in revenue through local hotels, grocery stores, gas stations, fishing and camping outfitters, restaurants, professional guiding services and lodges,” the letter states. “The CEAA environmental assessment does not address the potential economic risks posed to our fisheries.
“We, the undersigned strongly disagree with the Lelu Island and Flora Bank location proposed to support the (Pacific NorthWest) facility.”
A 30-day comment period on the CEAA environmental assessment concluded March 11 and the agency will now consider the comment submissions in preparing a report to be sent to federal cabinet ministers.
They will use the report to make a final decision to reject or approve the project. They can also attach any number of conditions to an approval.
In the meantime, Pacific NorthWest LNG, which is majority controlled by Petronas, a corporation owned by the Malaysian government, has denied that it will cancel the project unless it gets approved by the end of the month.
“We are continuing to move that forward and we believe we are in the final stages to a final decision,” said Pacific NorthWest LNG president Michael Culbert of the project.