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Ukee leaders consult with DFO minister, federal officials

Ucluelet officials got a face-to-face meeting with federal fisheries Min. Gail Shea this week in Nanaimo, and Mayor Bill Irving is hoping good things will come of the 1.5-hour wide-ranging discussion for the West Coast.

"We met with Minister Gail Shea of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and with Dr. Lunney, our MP for the area, and Dan Cody, who is the minister's advisor on fisheries," Irving said.

"Our focus was on what the future of Amphitrite Point would be. We had some very productive discussions about the possible future use of the site," he said.

Ucluelet is a very large - if not the largest - port for landed seafood in Western Canada.

That could provide unique opportunities, Irving said.

"In discussion with the minister, it's how do we build that up, through more infrastructure for small craft harbours, for one," Irving said, citing an additional $40 million earmarked for small craft harbours.

"(The minister) did make a point of saying .. she was very interested in our harbour plan as it related to that new money," he said.

Irving said the value of the Amphitrite site came up as to its role in safeguarding the coast considering the proposed increase in heavy shipping traffic and existing and future tanker and container ship traffic, related to both pipeline increase and the proposal for the Alberni Inlet for a container ship port.

"My impression was they felt very comfortable saying there is a connection and they would be conducting discussion on moving forward with the plans for the future of the Amphitrite site," he said.

Irving said on-shore fish processing came up in connection to the federal government's buy-in to groundfish.

"Two plants have opens in Ucluelet and invested a lot of money in onshore processing, which means steady employment and involvement in the community, but there are steady pressures for off-shore processing. In discussion with the minister, we do like have variety and options, but the on-shore should still remain the priority," Irving said.

Finally, the district sought Shea's help in a multi-year effort to get ownership of Amphitrite Point transferred from the province to the District of Ucluelet's ownership.

"An agreement is being drafted to transfer that land to the District of Ucluelet, and the Coast Guard is a key part of that and we'd like to focus on getting that done as soon as possible," he said.

"The provincial government is working with the district to make the transfer. They've been working on it five years now. That's why we pushed the issue with the minister. The issue right now is for the Coast Guard to designate what they would like to remain as their lease property. We've asked the minister to pick up the pace internally," he said.

Irving said he was encouraged with good discussion back and forth, and Shea's expressed interest in visiting the area.