Guide government action on Southern Resident killer whales before March 23

Please complete this government survey on Southern Resident killer whale recovery before March 23.

A researcher puts a breath sampler in the water from a long pole while a killer whale swims in another frame.

Sampling device used to collect breath samples (left) from endangered Southern Residents (right). Photos by NOAA.

In the last two years, the federal government has taken initial measures to reduce noise and disturbance from vessels (to make it easier for whales to feed and communicate), and to create areas where killer whales can feed without competition with fishing boats.

While some high profile Fraser River Chinook fisheries have been closed, these closures are implemented to protect Chinook that are themselves highly endangered. Few fishing measures have been taken to improve the abundance of Chinook generally or to improve abundance of Chinook reaching killer whale feeding grounds.  

Measures to date have failed to stabilize the Southern Resident killer whale population, which now sits at just 72 individuals. 

Government will consider your input, including this survey, for this year’s recovery measures. Though some industries will be impacted, we believe government should act based on the broader value of these whales as priceless and irreplaceable. This is a question of their survival. 

It’s open until March 23: http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/consultation/fm-gp/srkw-eprs/index-eng.html

We have provided our answers to the survey questions to offer guidance if needed. Please complete it and share. 

Our answers to the survey questions

1. Do you expect the area-based fishing closure measures to benefit or impact you or your group/organization economically, environmentally, culturally and/or socially?

Yes, fishing closures and killer whale recovery will benefit my community.

While some industries will be impacted by recovery measures, the government should act on the broader, long term value that a healthy Southern Resident population brings to the region.  Meaningful recovery efforts should recognise the importance of top predators in a healthy Salish Sea. In addition to their utilitarian value, their social and cultural value is viewed by many as priceless and irreplaceable and should not be measured only in monetary terms.

Juan de Fuca Strait and Swiftsure Bank

2. Size/Location: Which one of these options do you support?  Option A, B or C?

Option C is the best for whales

Is there anything you would recommend to improve this option with respect to their design and/or implementation (such as a corridor along the shore that would be left open for fishing)? 

A fishing corridor along the shore within this area, whether close to shore or not, would render it ineffective to reduce disturbance and ineffective as a fishing closure, so corridors should not be permitted. 

Should additional areas be considered? 

Yes, feeding areas to the east in the Juan de Fuca identified by killer whale scientists should be included. Additionally, fishing area closures should begin in April when fishing (including Chinook non-retention) starts, rather than July. 

Gulf Islands

There is only one option being considered for the Gulf Islands Area, which includes Subareas 18-9 and portions of Subareas 18-2, 18-4 and 18-5.

3. Size/Location: Is there anything you would recommend to improve this option with respect to its design and/or implementation?

 Yes.

The region has been a key feeding area for Southern Residents from spring to fall.  As such, fishing area closures should begin in April. Currently, non-retention Chinook fishing is allowed to occur in this zone until August. This area needs to be closed from spring to fall to maximize the benefit to Southern Residents and Chinook.

Mouth of the Fraser River

4. Size/Location: Which one of these options do you support? A, B or C

Option B is the best for whales.

Is there anything you would recommend to improve this option with respect to their design and/or implementation (such as a corridor along the shore that would be left open for fishing)? 

A fishing corridor along the shore within this area, whether close to shore or not, would render it ineffective to reduce disturbance and ineffective as a fishing closure, so corridors should not be permitted. Additionally, Fishing area closures should begin in April when fishing (including Chinook non-retention) starts, not July.

Should additional areas be considered? 

Yes, an expanded area that includes the approaches to the Fraser River from Active Pass and southern Georgia Strait have been identified by killer whale scientists as also being important for feeding.  This larger area should be included in 2020 measures.

Interim Sanctuary Zones

5. Size/Location: Did you encounter any safety challenges transiting around these areas that would warrant adjustments to the boundaries? 

No.

6. Exemptions: Given significant safety concerns, consideration is being given to providing a transit corridor up to 20m from shore for human powered vessels (i.e. kayaks) to ensure safe passage in these areas. Do you support this additional exemption?

Yes

If yes, please explain 

Safe shoreline transit for kayaks needs to be granted within the sanctuary zones given the increased risk for kayaks transiting outside boundaries. This accommodation allows for continued economic activity and local employment with very low risk to whales.

Is there anything you would add to improve this option? 

Kayaks should transit through these areas in maximum group sizes of six. Access is for direct transit only (i.e. no whale watching).  

7. Temporal application: Given that Southern Resident Killer Whales were sighted in Canadian waters late into 2019, consideration is being given to extending the timeframe of Interim Sanctuary Zones to November 31st, 2020. Do you support this extension?

Yes.

8. Is there anything you would recommend to improve this option with respect to its design and/or implementation?

Yes, Sanctuaries should be extended from April through November in the Gulf Islands and implemented year round on Swiftsure Bank.  Southern Resident killer whales can be present on Swiftsure Bank year round.

400 metre distance avoidance zone

9. Given that Southern Resident Killer Whales were sighted in Canadian waters late into 2019 and some Southern Resident Killer Whales are found in Canadian waters throughout the year, do you support extending the timeframe of the avoidance distance to be year-round, on an interim basis?

Yes. Endangered whales can be encountered by vessels year round, and hence should be protected by a year round 400m avoidance distance and no directed following/viewing. 

Do you foresee any negative consequences of this option?  

No, whale watching companies have Biggs (transient) killer whales as well as other whale and marine mammal viewing options.  It would also make the regulation simpler if it was permanent and not based on time of year.

10. Do you support extending the geographic scope of the avoidance distance measure to go beyond Southern Resident Killer Whale critical habitat and include parts of the Strait of Georgia currently not covered by the critical habitat designation?

Yes.  Southern Resident killer whales can be found in parts of northern and southern Georgia Strait any month of the year and the avoidance distance should extend to all of Georgia Strait. This would also harmonize with their known range. All of Georgia Strait should be further recognized as critical habitat.   

Voluntary fishing avoidance zone

11. Do you expect the voluntary fishing avoidance zone to benefit or impact you or your group/organization economically, environmentally, culturally and/or socially?

No

12. Is there anything you would recommend to improve this option with respect to their design and/or implementation?

Yes. The lack of enforcement will likely lead to low compliance, as was anecdotally observed in 2019. The voluntary fishing avoidance zones would need to be monitored to demonstrate whether the requested actions are undertaken. It would require further assessment to determine their effectiveness.

General questions

13. Have the measures put in place to address key threats to Southern Resident Killer Whales, benefited you or your group/organization economically, environmentally, culturally and/or socially?

Yes.

Species and wild places are important and warrant protection regardless of the utilitarian value they provide to people. Nonetheless, our human values can also compel us to safeguard species. We all depend upon a healthy and ecologically rich environment. 

Failure to reconcile ecology and commerce -an important factor in the status of Southern Resident killer whales and their prey- has been a hallmark of domestic and international policy for decades. This is because a fundamental conflict exists between economic growth and conservation. As industrial development continues, natural capital (such as forests, river banks, soil, water quality) is reallocated from wildlife habitat to the human economy. 

Meaningful recovery efforts demonstrate the government’s obligation to implement national laws that protect Canadian wildlife. These laws reflect the public interest and values including laws to protect endangered species. Importantly, the measures around fisheries closures also benefit endangered salmon populations. 

14. How can we improve education and outreach efforts on the management measures to support increased awareness and compliance?

Straitwatch and First Nation Guardians should be further enabled to provide on-the-water boater education and monitoring. The presence of these entities will also improve compliance.  Compliance and enforcement should be provided by Conservation & Protection officers who can enforce fisheries and marine mammal measures, sanctuary zones, and the Transport Canada distance order.

15. Anything further you would like to add or comment on?

(provide your own comments)

Below is a figure from Fisheries and Oceans Canada that shows habitat use/feeding priority areas for Southern Resident killer whales in the Salish Sea. For more information on Raincoast’s history to protect and recover these endangered whales see https://www.raincoast.org/killer-whales/

Map of SRKW habitat use.


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