Government of Canada puts important measures in place to protect Southern Resident killer whales
OTTAWA, ON, April 29, 2022 /CNW/ – Southern Resident killer whales are icons of Canada’s Pacific coast and have important cultural significance for Indigenous Peoples and coastal communities in British Columbia. The Government of Canada continues to take strong action to protect and restore their population. For the fourth consecutive year, it will implement measures to further protect these whales in Canadian waters.
Today, the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Omar Alghabra, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Joyce Murray, and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, announced protective measures for Southern Resident killer whales on the West Coast.
These measures include:
- Two new Seasonal Slowdown Areas near Swiftsure Bank, in which all vessels will be restricted to a maximum speed of 10 knots, in effect from June 1 to November 30, 2022. This measure was co-developed with Pacheedaht First Nation and incorporates new scientific information about habitat use.
- For the third consecutive year, vessels must stay at least 400 m away from all killer whales in southern British Columbia coastal waters between Campbell River and Ucluelet, including Barkley and Howe Sound. This is in effect year-round until May 31, 2023. If killer whales approach any vessel, boaters should place their engine in neutral and wait for the animals to pass.
- A renewed agreement with local whale watching and ecotourism industry partners to once again not offer or promote tours focused on Southern Resident killer whales.
- Re-introducing two interim sanctuary zones off Pender Island and Saturna Island from June 1 to November 30, 2022. No vessel traffic will be permitted in these areas during this period, subject to certain exceptions for emergency situations and Indigenous vessels.
- Expanded fishery closures will be put in place for commercial and recreational salmon fisheries in 2022 in a portion of Swiftsure Bank, Southern Gulf Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Mouth of the Fraser River. These actions will help protect the whales’ access to salmon and minimize disturbance in key foraging areas. Fishing closures will be modified compared to 2021 based on new science advice regarding whale presence, their foraging areas, and impacts of vessel disturbance.
- Similar to last year, the Southern Gulf Islands closure protocol for commercial and recreational salmon fisheries will be in effect from the first confirmed presence of Southern Resident killer whales in the area until October 31.
- Continuing to help reduce contaminants in the environment affecting whales and their prey. Long-term actions focus on enhancing regulatory controls, monitoring and research, sharing information and data, and expanding outreach and education. Recent progress includes launching the Pollutants Affecting Whales and their Prey Inventory Tool, which maps estimates of pollutant releases within the habitats of Southern Resident killer whales and their prey. This tool is public and will help model the impacts of additional mitigation measures and controls.
- The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program will coordinate voluntary underwater noise reduction initiatives in key areas of Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat across the Salish Sea, including Haro Strait and Boundary Pass, Swiftsure Bank, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Transport Canada works with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Parks Canada, RCMP and Canadian Coast Guard to plan and execute the SRKW Interim Order compliance and enforcement regime and will continue to strengthen enforcement of these measures.
Effectively ensuring the protection and recovery of Southern Resident killer whales requires a long-term, collective effort by the Government of Canada and its partners. These measures once again reflect advice from First Nations, the Southern Resident killer whale Technical Working Groups, the Indigenous and Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group, and from public consultations.
“The Government of Canada continues to take concrete actions to help protect our vulnerable and endangered marine mammal species. That’s why, for the fourth straight year, we are putting in protective measures to help protect Southern Resident killer whales. It is imperative that we continue our efforts to ensure a quieter, safer environment for this iconic, vulnerable species.”
The Honourable Omar Alghabra
Minister of Transport
“Southern Resident killer whales have called the Pacific coast home for thousands of years, and we want to see their population grow, flourish, and return to their former abundance. Our government has been taking significant actions to protect these majestic creatures and we will enhance our protection measures to help limit the impacts of human activity in their habitats. We’ll continue this important work in partnership with industry, Indigenous groups, the science community, and others.
The Honourable Joyce Murray
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
“Southern Resident killer whales sit at the top of their food chain. Actions geared toward reducing the contaminants entering their habitat and subsequently impacting their health will aid in the recovery and survival of this population. We will continue our research and monitoring programs designed with this whale population in mind and focus on strengthening actions on priority contaminants. And we will keep increasing awareness and understanding of marine conservation in Canada.”
The Honourable Steven Guilbeault
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada
- The 2022 fishing closures will be announced in June 2022 upon completion of Canada’s Pacific Salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plans.
- There were 155 enforcement actions issued in relation to measures in place in 2021, including multiple administrative monetary penalties worth a total of $51,500. This represents fewer violations than in past years. Mariner educational campaigns that were held during the boating season positively impacted compliance with the measures, and these efforts will be increased this year.
- In 2019, the Government of Canada signed a five-year Species at Risk Act Conservation Agreement with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and industry partners to support the recovery of the Southern Resident killer whales. As part of this agreement, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led ECHO Program develops and implements voluntary measures to reduce the impacts of commercial shipping on at-risk whales off British Columbia’s southern coast.
- Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan, Whales Initiative, and an additional federal investment of $61.5 million are supporting the survival and recovery of Southern Resident killer whales, North Atlantic right whales, and St. Lawrence Estuary belugas by implementing protection measures, increasing research, and monitoring activities and taking action to address key threats.
- Background: 2022 Measures
- Map: Fisheries management measures to protect Southern Resident killer whales
- Southern Resident killer whale accountability framework: Evaluating support for recovery | Pacific Region | Fisheries and Oceans Canada (dfo-mpo.gc.ca)
The Government of Canada recognizes that Southern Resident killer whales face imminent threats to their survival, and that protecting these iconic marine mammals requires comprehensive and immediate action. The focus of our measures is on addressing the primary threats to Southern Resident killer whales: reduced prey availability and accessibility, acoustic and physical disturbance, and contaminants.
- Chinook, chum, and coho salmon are an essential part of the Southern Resident killer whale diet. To address the limited availability of this prey, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is continuing a combination of fishing restrictions in key foraging areas within their critical habitat, along with voluntary measures coastwide. These measures will reduce competition between fish harvesters and killer whales for salmon. This will still provide opportunities for non-salmon related recreational and commercial fisheries, and for food, social, and ceremonial harvest, as well as Indigenous domestic treaty fishing access.
- The following measures will help protect the whales’ access to salmon and ensure minimal disturbance in key foraging areas:
- Expanded area-based closures will be in place in Southern Resident killer whale key foraging areas for recreational and commercial salmon fisheries. Dates of recreation and commercial fishery closures will be finalized in June 2022, but will take place in:
- Swiftsure Bank (portion of Subareas 121-1 and 121-2)
- The Strait of Juan de Fuca (Subareas 20-1 and 20-5)
- New fishing closures for recreational and commercial salmon in the mouth of the Fraser River (Subarea 29-3) to provide protection in Southern Resident killer whale key foraging area.
- The Southern Gulf Islands (Subarea 18-9 and portions of 18-4, 18-5 and 18-2) closure protocol for commercial and recreational salmon fisheries will be in effect from the first confirmed presence of Southern Resident killer whales in the area to October 31, 2022. Monitoring of the area will begin May 5, 2022, and once a Southern Resident killer whale is confirmed, fishery closures will be triggered.
- All fishers are encouraged to temporarily cease fishing activities (do not haul in gear) when killer whales are within 1,000 metres. This voluntary measure is in place year-round throughout Canadian Pacific waters.
- For the third consecutive year, DFO is also planning to release one million Chilliwack River Chinook Hatchery salmon to support the availability of prey within the habitat of Southern Resident killer whales.
All vessels, including commercial vessels, recreational boats, and whale watching vessels, have an important role to play in reducing acoustic and physical disturbance. For the fourth consecutive year, Transport Canada is implementing expanded measures for vessel operators, including:
- Vessels must stay at least 400 metres away from all killer whales in southern British Columbia coastal waters between Campbell River to just north of Ucluelet, year-round. Whale watching and ecotourism companies that receive an authorization from the Minister of Transport will be able to view killer whales, other than the Southern Resident killer whales, from 200 metres, given their expertise in identifying different types of killer whales.
- Vessels are asked to turn off fish finders and echo sounders when safe to do so and to place the engine in neutral and allow animals to pass if you find yourself within 400 metres of a killer whale.
- All vessels are asked to reduce their speed to less than 7 knots when safe to do so if they are within 1,000 metres of killer whales, to reduce engine noise and vessel wake.
Based on recently published scientific data and in co-development with Pacheedaht First Nation, two new Seasonal Slowdown Areas are being piloted near Swiftsure Bank. All vessels are required to slow down to a maximum of 10 knots while in the areas. This measure is separate from the voluntary slowdowns coordinated by the ECHO Program.
- From June 1 until November 30, 2022, all vessels must slow down to a maximum of 10 knots in two new Seasonal Slowdown Areas near Swiftsure Bank. The first area is in the Protected Fisheries Management Area 121-1 and the second Seasonal Slowdown Area is located near the mouth of the Nitinat River from Carmanah Point to Longitude 125 degrees west.
- Exemptions are in place for the following (subject to changes):
- Vessels in distress or providing assistance to a vessel or person in distress.
- Vessels avoiding immediate or unforeseen danger.
- Government or law enforcement on official business.
- Permitted research if the research requires higher speed.
- A sailing vessel proceeding under sail and not being propelled by machinery.
Interim sanctuary zones create spaces of refuge for the whales on a temporary basis, pending further research for a longer-term approach. The location of these zones is based on scientific and Indigenous knowledge of historically important foraging areas for Southern Resident killer whales.
- From June 1 until November 30, 2022, no vessel traffic or fishing activity is allowed in interim sanctuary zones off the southwest coast of South Pender Island and the southeast end of Saturna Island. Exceptions will be allowed for emergency situations and vessels engaged in Indigenous food, social, and ceremonial fisheries.
- To ensure the safety of those operating human-powered vessels, a 20-metre corridor next to shore will allow kayakers and other paddlers to transit through these zones. If a killer whale is in the sanctuary at the time, paddlers must remain 400 metres away from the whales.
For the sixth year in a row, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program will coordinate underwater noise reduction initiatives in key areas of Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat across the Salish Sea. While in effect last year, these initiatives reduced underwater sound intensity by up to 55% in key foraging areas within Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat.
In 2022, the ECHO Program will organize three voluntary initiatives encouraging ships to either slow down or stay distanced in Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat:
- A new voluntary ship slowdown trial at Swiftsure Bank. From June 1 to October 31, all vessels transiting through the inbound and outbound shipping lanes at Swiftsure Bank will be asked to voluntarily slow down when safe and operationally feasible to do so.
- A lateral displacement in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. From June 1 to October 31, all tugboats transiting in the Canadian inshore area of the Strait of Juan de Fuca will be asked to move south of the known Southern Resident killer whale feeding area when safe and operationally feasible to do so.
- A voluntary ship slowdown at Haro Strait & Boundary Pass. From approximately June 1 to November 30 –timing depending on the presence of Southern Resident killer whales–all vessels will be asked to voluntarily slow down while transiting through Haro Strait & Boundary Pass when safe and operationally feasible to do so.
Full details of the ECHO Program’s initiatives, including target slowdown speeds and location coordinates, are available on their website at portvancouver.com/echo/projects
The Government of Canada leads a technical working group on contaminants in the environment comprised of key partners from all levels of government, academia and non-governmental organizations. Over the past three years, this group has identified key contaminants of concern and continued important monitoring and research. In addition, 59 environmental quality guidelines were recommended, based on a scientific framework, to protect Southern Resident killer whales and their prey. The Government of Canada also recently launched the Pollutants Affecting Whales and their Prey Inventory Tool which maps estimates of pollutant releases within the habitats of Resident killer whales and their prey. This tool is public and will help model the impacts of additional mitigation measures and controls.
Reflecting on the persistence of many contaminants in the environment, the Government of Canada and its partners continue to progress on long-term actions to support Southern Resident killer whale recovery in the following areas:
- Develop and implement further controls such as regulations or guidelines to reduce the threat of contaminants;
- Conduct research and monitoring to further our understanding of contaminants in the environment and their impacts;
- Share data, information, and knowledge among partners to inform decision-making; and
- Undertake outreach, education and engagement to inform the public and involve them in solutions.
Compliance with management measures depends on public awareness. The Government of Canada continues to collaborate with educational organizations, environmental groups, Indigenous partners, and government bodies in Canada and the United States to raise awareness of the Southern Resident killer whale protection measures through public education and outreach efforts.
- Suite of SRKW management measures
- Protecting our Coasts – Oceans Protection Plan
- Protecting Canada’s Endangered Whales
- Watching marine wildlife
- $167.4 million Whales Initiative: Protecting the Southern Resident killer whale
- Reducing the threat of contaminants to Southern Resident killer whales
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SOURCE Transport Canada
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