A ruling by the federal Court of Appeal could have mammoth ramifications for the Sooke and the Juan de Fuca says Mike Hicks, regional director for the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area.
On February 9, a precedent-setting ruling, stipulates that the federal government is legally bound to protect the killer whale habitat in both the southern straits as well as the northern straits.
“The environmental groups have been fighting with DFO (Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans) over protection of Southern Vancouver Island orcas and they won their case,” said a distressed Hicks. With the forced protection of the orcas’ habitat Hicks fears a loss of fishing for chinook salmon. The chinook are part of the orca’s diet.
“DFO might be looking at some scary regulations,” said Hicks. “They could shut down the chinook fishery on the Juan de Fuca Strait or whale watching boats.”
He said, here you have DFO pulling the plug on the dam on DeMamiel Creek knowingly sacrificing the habitat of the Juan de Fuca orcas’ food source.
“Sooke and Southern Vancouver Island residents are happy to help the orcas, but they are concerned they are shouldering 100 per cent of the pain,” said Hicks, in reference to the impact it would make on local recreation fishers and the work being done by salmon enhancement groups. He said that in Sooke from spring to mid-July chinook fishing is restricted to protect the early Fraser River chinook run.
He also wondered what the allocation would be for the recreational fishery.
“These are confusing times,” said Hicks. “Sooke people really need to monitor this. The court decision ito protect the habitat of the Southern Vancouver Island orca, their diet is chinook salmon. I’m happy for the orcas but concerned for the Average Joe in Sooke.”
Hicks said he wasn’t running around saying the “sky is falling” but if they come in with severe restrictions it will have an impact.
“I’m not trying to alarm residents but to make them aware of a major, major court decision. Be watchful,” said Hicks.
He reiterated that DFO should not be pulling the plug on the Bill James dam on DeMamiel Creek because now they have to protect the habitat of the salmon which are necessary for the orcas.
Adam Silverstein, South Coast Area Chief, Ecosystems Management Branch Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Region stated in an email to Glen Varney, who represents various stakeholders, that the Department (in regard to the dam) has offered to transfer the license and the associated maintenance responsibilities to any interested community partner.
The federal court action was brought about by a coalition of nine environmental groups under the banner of Ecojustice.
On the website, they state that their “victory” draws a legal line in the sand and has given them a powerful legal tool they are prepared to use if necessary.