West Coast fishers received some frightening news just before Christmas as Swiftsure and LaPerouse Banks were officially declared critical habitats for B.C.’s endangered southern resident killer whales, which could mean fisheries closures are coming.
Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada Jonathan Wilkinson made the announcement on Dec. 19.
“These new critical habitat orders build on existing critical habitat areas to help protect the habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of both southern resident and northern resident killer whales,” he said. “While these orders will prohibit the destruction of critical habitat caused by human activities, there is more work to do to determine how specific other activities on the water must be managed in order to achieve this.”
He said DFO has identified three specific threats to killer whale populations: a lack of chinook salmon to eat, disturbances from vessels and environmental contaminants in the ocean.
That has led the federal government to reduce chinook harvesting levels in some areas and fisheries closures in others, while also moving vessel traffic away from foraging areas and funding new and upgraded sewage treatment facilities in Vancouver and Victoria.
Both Tofino and Ucluelet’s chambers of commerce have been vocally leery of the critical habitat designation’s impact on the West Coast’s economy.
Wilkinson said DFO will work with communities and stakeholders to determine the specific measures that will be taken now that the critical habitats have been declared.
“Such measures could include additional restrictions on fisheries and the creation of whale sanctuaries, which would require additional restrictions on transportation and other sectors,” he said. “We will work to address concerns expressed by some coastal communities in particular regarding potential economic impacts of any proposed measures.”
He added that “Canadians care very deeply about the fate of these majestic whales,” and that the new critical habitat designations would help their survival and recovery.
“I cannot overemphasize the point that protecting species at risk in this country is a shared responsibility of all Canadians,” he said. “When it comes to British Columbia’s killer whales, the world is certainly watching. Bold action is what these iconic mammals need to recover and bold action is what our government is taking.”