British Columbia

Sport-fishing restrictions would have 'devastating effect,' says Port Renfrew chamber of commerce

The potential for expanded fin-fishing bans in waters along the southwest coast of Vancouver Island has the sport fishing industry, a top economic performer for many towns, worried.

Proposed fishing bans aim to increase chinook salmon numbers

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says it is taking action to protect the coastal population of resident killer whales. (Dave Ellifrit/Center for Whale Research)

The potential for expanded fin-fishing bans in waters along the southwest coast of Vancouver Island has the sport fishing industry, a top economic performer for many towns, worried.

"It's going to have a devastating effect," said Karl Ablack, the vice president of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce, to All Points West host Jason D'Souza.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) added waters from Port Renfrew to Tofino to its amended recovery strategy for the northern and southern resident killer whales, in order to find ways to protect dwindling chinook salmon stocks, the main source of food for the species.

There are an estimated 75 southern resident killer whales left in Canada's waters.

"We're fully supportive of protecting these animals. Where we have a problem with is how they're going about doing this."

Low numbers of chinook salmon have led Fisheries and Oceans Canada to close popular areas along the southwest coast of Vancouver Island to sport fishing. (Paul Vecsei/Engbretson Underwater Photography)

Lack of practical consultation

Ablack's frustrated with what he feels has been a lack of communication with the people who would be most affected by the bans.

The DFO had its first period of public consultation on the issue between June 12 and July 11. It has a second phase proposed for August through the end of September, a time of the year when Ablack says fishermen are busiest.

"It really demonstrates a high level of insensitivity from their [the DFO's] end because they're asking for feedback from individuals who make their living from the sea in a time of year when they are the busiest," said Ablack.

Ablack is requesting longer consultation periods so that the fishing community can take part in the consultations. He would also like to see the DFO focus on smaller areas of crucial habitat, rather than blanket restrictions on large areas of water.

DFO taking actions to protect and recover the species

The DFO said in a statement the 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," it said, "and is taking action to protect and recover these species and ensure protections are in place as rapidly as possible." 

It said there are no immediate plans to add new closures.

Ablack says government has to also consider the impact on those who make their livelihood fishing.

"These species are important to the waters of the southwest of Vancouver Island, but it can't all be borne on the backs of fishermen," he said.

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