British Columbia

Fishing boats ordered to halt all activity if closer than a kilometre to killer whales

For the second year in a row, the Government of Canada is enacting restrictions to help protect the southern resident killer whale population.

DFO has doubled down on regulations from last year to help protect southern resident killer whale populations

The DFO is also asking all fishing activities to cease when killer whales are within 1,000 metres of vessels year-round throughout all Canadian Pacific waters. (Dave Ellifrit/Center for Whale Research)

For the second year in a row the Government of Canada is enacting restrictions to help protect the southern resident killer whale population.

The new rules from Fisheries and Oceans Canada include protecting access to chinook salmon, reducing contaminants affecting killer whales and their prey and asking all vessels to "go slow" when whales are around.

Many of the regulations laid out are similar to those announced last year.

New elements include expanding area-based closures for recreational and commercial fishing in key killer whale foraging areas and creating interim sanctuary zones off Pender Island, Saturna Island and at Swiftsure Bank that will last from June 1 to Nov. 30, 2020.

The DFO is also asking all fishing activities to cease when killer whales are within 1,000 metres of vessels year-round throughout all Canadian Pacific waters.

Killer whales are pictured in Chatham Sound near Prince Rupert, B.C., on June, 22, 2018. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

"At this point, the measures are voluntary but we saw last year that they were utilized by fisheries pretty well," said Terry Beech, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of fisheries and oceans.

"We don't get a second shot at this. We have to not only protect the existing whales that are here but are investing in restoring these populations," he said.

Beech says there will be ongoing monitoring by DFO scientists to make sure the regulations are effective.

Rules redundant?

But not everyone is on board with the new rules.

Don Mollard owns the Victoria Fish Company and worked as a commercial fisherman around Vancouver Island for 45 years.

He says many of the rules are redundant because there isn't much commercial fishing left in the lower southern strait.

"Saying you can't commercially fish near them, well we aren't near them anyway. It's stupid. It's like they have a hate on for the commercial fishery," said Mollard.

Mollard says he has little faith in the government's ability to properly manage fish stock on the coast and questions whether the science behind the regulations is more political than practical.

"Let me tell you, scientists are up for hire. They come and go like the wind," he said. "If they were good at managing fish, I would still be actively fishing salmon wouldn't I?"

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