CAMPBELL RIVER - The first convictions ever in Canada under the Species at Risk Act and under the Marine Mammal Regulations took place in Campbell River Wednesday.
Carl Eric Peterson was found guilty and fined $7,500 in addition to having to write a mea culpa (I am to blame) court approved article for submission to a Campbell River newspaper.
The fine is one that could happen to a lot of boaters when killer whales traverse Discovery Passage. Peterson has helped out local salmon enhancement programs over the years and the crown hopes his mea culpa letter serves as a warning to others.
The fine will be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund and will be directed to local conservation and education in Campbell River.
Peterson was found guilty following a two-day trial on Jan. 11 and 12, 2012, of unlawfully disturbing marine mammals, and unlawfully harassing a species listed as 'threatened' under the Species At Risk Act (SARA).
The incidents occurred two years ago, on Oct.3, 2010, in Discovery Passage when Peterson was observed by Fisheries Officers accelerating toward two orcas who had surfaced about 60 metres ahead of his boat.
If vessel operator behaviour is not consistent with the Be Whale Wise guidelines restrictiing Canadian boats to 100 metres away from killer whales, violations can result in significant fines and penalties; from a maximum of $250,000 under Species At Risk Act legislation to $100,000 under the Marine Mammal Regulations.
British Columbia's two resident killer whale populations are listed as endangered (southern residents) and threatened (northern residents) under the Species At Risk Act. The Resident Killer Whale Recovery Strategy identifies physical and acoustic vessel disturbance as a potential threat to their recovery.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) report that scientific evidence suggests close approaches to orcas by boats can disrupt their normal behavior and if frequent, can cause long-term harm to the population. The law does not require actual proof of disturbance, only that there was a very high probability that the whales were disturbed.
The DFO is concerned about marine mammal incidents and disturbances and asks for assistance from the public in reporting information. If you witness an incident, please call the 24-hour, toll-free Observe, Record, Report line at: 1-800-465-4336.
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