Feds enforcing fishery, distancing rules to protect southern resident orcas

For a third year in a row, the federal government has ordered fishery closures and imposed limits on vessel movements to protect the critically endangered southern resident killer whale population.

The measures by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans focus on the main threats to the orcas: lack of access to Chinook salmon stocks, acoustic and physical disturbance, and contaminants.

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The commercial and recreational salmon fishery will be closed in a portion of Swiftsure Bank from July 16 to Oct. 31, and in Juan de Fuca Strait from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31.

DFO is also enforcing a new closure for commercial and recreational salmon fisheries in the southern Gulf Islands, where closures will be triggered by the first confirmed presence of southern resident killer whales in the area.

Monitoring will begin in the area on June 1. If a southern resident killer whale sighting is confirmed, the fishery will be shut down and remain closed until Oct. 31, the department said.

Distancing measures will also be enforced. For a second year, vessels will be prohibited from coming within 400 metres of any orca in coastal waters between Campbell River and Ucluelet, including Barkley and Howe Sound. This is in effect year-round until May 31, 2022.

Three interim sanctuary zones off Pender and Saturna islands and at Swiftsure Bank will also resume from June 1 to Nov. 30. No vessel traffic will be permitted in these areas, with exceptions for emergency and Indigenous vessels.

The federal government is working on reducing contaminants from vessels by enhancing regulatory controls, monitoring and expanding outreach and education.

The measures were based on advice from First Nations, technical working groups on the southern resident killer whale, Indigenous and stakeholder groups, and public consultations.

The minister of transport will also renew an agreement by whale-watching and ecotourism industry partners not to offer or promote tours to view southern resident killer whales.

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is expected to announce measures related to large commercial vessels in the coming weeks.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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