Bella Coola Valley. (Scott Carrier photo)

Bella Coola Valley. (Scott Carrier photo)

Nuxalk Nation closes recreation, sports fisheries at Bella Coola due to COVID-19 concerns

Nobody is supposed to be travelling, said marine use manager Peter Siwallace

The Nuxalk Nation is calling on the provincial government to support its closure of recreation and sports fishing in Nuxalk territory, which encompasses the Bella Coola Valley.

Peter Siwallace, marine-use coordinator for the Nuxalk stewardship office, said the move to close the sport fishery is necessary due to risks of COVID-19 exposure, and is consistent with the current B.C. emergency orders.

“People shouldn’t be going from one district zone to another one unless it’s for essential purposes,” said Siwallace. “We don’t want an influx of people here that could potentially bring in COVID. We are afraid of that.”

Siwallace said the Nation sent a letter to provincial health minister Adrian Dix and federal health minister Patty Hajdu on Friday, May 14, asking them not to authorize any more licenses for river or saltwater fishing because of COVID. The letter was signed by both Elected Chief Wally Webber and Hereditary Chief Mike Tallio.

Last year the Nation also requested Fisheries and Oceans Canada to put in a six-mile boundary limit for fishing.

“We asked them to monitor it, but things basically got out of hand and the fishermen came right into the port. So we entered into another memorandum of understanding requesting they step up their efforts this year to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Read more: Opening of salmon fishery in Area 8 opposed by Nuxalk Nation

Nuxalk Nation is following the province’s lead in implementing a travel ban, he said.

“Nobody is supposed to be travelling in the province. If the province says ‘it’s closed,’ then we will abide by that and enforce it at this end, with precautions in place, of course.”

The hospital in Bella Coola has 15 beds and if the area had a massive number of COVID-19 cases the hospital would not be able to accommodate everybody, he added.

Second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been given to the elders in the Nation, but not young people.

So far the Nation has not set up a check-stop on the highway but at least four people have been approached and asked to turn around and leave, which they did.

“It’s other people that are just coming in whether we talk with them or not. They drop their boats into the ocean here, park their trucks and trailers on the side of the road,” Siwallace said, noting he counted 10 trucks with boat trailers on the weekend.

Siwallace said the Nation is expecting people to respect the travel ban.

According to the latest orders by the Provincial Health Officer (PHO) and Emergency Program Act (EPA), travel restrictions for non-essential travel in B.C. are in place until May 25, after the Victoria Day long weekend, to stop the spread of COVID-19 and variants of concern. Fines can be given to people who leave their region for non-essential travel.

Under the EPA, an order restricting non-essential travel between certain regions of the province is in place until May 25 at midnight. This includes travel for: Vacations, weekend getaways and tourism activities, visiting family or friends for social reasons and recreation activities.

Travel regions

According to the provincial government, the order combines B.C.’s five health authorities into three regions of the province. Travel into and out of the regions for non-essential reasons is not allowed and is now prohibited by law. The regions are:

Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley (Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health).

Northern/Interior (Northern Health and Interior Health, including Bella Coola Valley, the Central Coast and Hope).

Residents from the Hope area can travel to Chilliwack for essential goods and supplies.

Residents from the Bella Coola Valley and Central Coast area can travel to Port Hardy for essential goods and supplies.

“Do not go on long trips within your region. Now is not the time for overnight vacations away from your community. Stay close to home. Visit your local beach, hiking trail or park,” notes the B.C. government website on travel restrictions.

Essential travel between regions is allowed.

RCMP checks will be located at Highway 1 in the Boston Bar area, Highway 3 in the Manning Park area, Highway 5 in the Old Toll Booth area and at Highway 99 in the Lillooet area.

Read more: B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Editor’s note: More information regarding the travel ban and travel regions has been added to the original story.

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