Fishing groups and local officials are concerned about a possible expansion of restricted fishing zones on South and West Vancouver Island aimed at protecting critical habitat areas for killer whales.
The DFO is looking for feedback from the public on a revised strategy to protect southern and northern resident killer whales.
The revised strategy looks to possibly implement a fishing closure in to two areas: the waters on the continental shelf off southwestern Vancouver Island, including Swiftsure and La Pérouse Banks, and the waters of west Dixon Entrance, along the north coast of Graham Island from Langara to Rose Spit, which is important for northern resident killer whales.
“Based on new science advice, the current draft amended recovery strategy updates the critical habitat for resident killer whales,” said the DFO.
“There are no immediate plans to add new closures or to change the 2018 fisheries closures that protect the key foraging areas.”
The DFO’s 2018 budget includes $167 million dedicated to protecting endangered whales, including southern resident killer whales.
“We will continue to work collaboratively and take effective measures to protect our environment for future generations,” said the DFO.
Earlier this year, the DFO announced a recreation fishing closure until Oct. 1 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Otter Point to East Point, near Port Renfrew, and portions around the Gulf Islands. The federal government is cutting back coast-wide on allowed catches of prized chinook salmon as it attempts to save the small population of endangered southern resident killer whales.
Chinook salmon, also called spring salmon, are the largest Pacific salmon, with some known to tip the scales at 45 kilograms. They are prized by southern resident killer, which rely on the fish for 80 per cent of their diet.
Many people were disappointed with the closure, including Mike Hicks, a Capital Regional District director, who is particularly concerned with the new strategy because he doesn’t believe closing more areas will solve anything.
“With the last closure, rather than working with fishers and listening to their feedback, they just shut down all fishing from Otter Point to Sheringham Point, it’s easy for them to just shut things down from Ottawa,” said Hicks. “There is a solution, but I don’t think the DFO is committed to finding it.”
Hicks said this is a desperate time for the West Coast of Canada, as recreational fishing plays a large role the culture, as well as the economy in Coastal communities.
“A wise person would find a balance,” said Hicks, suggesting the DFO look at other ways to help the whales, including things like putting funding in to hatcheries and salmon enhancement programs, reducing the number of predators such as seals and sea lions, and cleaning up the rivers where salmon go to spawn that have been impacted by humans.
“Every fisherman should be concerned. I am calling on local governments, residents, and Parliament to say something, because this needs to stop. Parliament members need to come out of hiding and put a word in, I can’t sit back and watch this happen.”
Christopher Bos, president of the South Island Anglers Association, said it is hard for him to say anything because the new areas the DFO is looking at protecting are out of his jurisdiction, but he also doesn’t believe the fishing closures will solve anything.
“This next strategy concerns me, because the last time they asked for public input, the DFO chose not to listen and closed more of an area than they were even proposing to in the first place,” said Bos. “I don’t think closing off areas to specific groups is the answer.”
The DFO said there has been a lot of confusion over the current regarding the current fishing closures within Juan de Fuca, the Gulf Islands, and the mouth of the Fraser.
It’s important to note that all other areas, excluding the ones just listed, are still open for fishing, and no further closures are planned until the DFO receives feedback.
“This consultation is just one step in the amendment process to update the identified critical habitat for these populations. The Government of Canada is committed to protecting these whales, and is taking action to protect and recover these species, and ensure protections are in place as rapidly as possible,” said a spokesperson for the DFO, adding that input must be given within the next two weeks.
Following the feedback from the public about the revised recovery strategy, the DFO plans to draw up a proposal, and again consult the public online. This is expected to happen in August to October this year.
“The Government will then have 30 days to incorporate comments before posting the final document on the Species at Risk Public Registry, anticipated to occur by December 2018,” said the DFO.
To give your feedback to the DFO on their recovery strategy, please go online to www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca.