A recreational fishing closure for all fin-fish in the area from Otter Point to East Point on the eastern entrance to Port San Juan is a “devastating blow” to the Sooke Region, say local officials and fishers.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans ban, announced Wednesday, takes effect June 1 to Sept. 30.
“A tough day for Sooke. I hope our fishers and guides will be successful this season with this reduced area, and our business community, local politicians and residents will press our MP Randall Garrison and the federal government to lift or amend this closure,” said Mike Hicks, a Capital Regional District director and former fishing guide.
Ryan Chamberland, owner of Vancouver Island Lodge, called the decision “devastating” for local business.
“It’s going to potentially close my business. It’s a huge destruction of our tourism industry in Sooke,” he said, adding the DFO decision will damage the area’s fishing reputation.
Chamberland said he’s never seen such a widespread ban on fishing in his lifetime.
The southern resident killer whales population has only 76 members and lack of prey is a critical factor affecting their survival, the federal government said.
The federal government is cutting back coast-wide on allowed catches of prized chinook salmon as it attempts to save the small population of endangered southern resident killer whales.
Chinook salmon, also called spring salmon, are the largest Pacific salmon, with some known to tip the scales at more than 45 kilograms. They are prized by southern resident whales, which rely on the fish for 80 per cent of their diet.
Chris Bos, president of the South Vancouver Island Anglers Association and chair of the Sport Fishing Advisory board, said local fishers attempted changes to DFO’s plan, such as creating a bubble zone that when the killer whales were near fishing areas, recreational fishers would move to give the orcas a quiet refuge and feeding area.
Another possibility was to move the boundary in the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Sheringham Point to Point No Point. “Then you would keep 95 per cent of the good fishing spots,” Bos said.
Besides no fishing rule for salmon, the no fin-fish ban also means fishers won’t be able to fish for other species such as halibut, which orcas don’t eat.
Whale-watching operations, boaters, commercial freighters and the military will still be able to use the waters, even though the federal government wants the zone to be a whale refuge. Scientific reports have indicated that noise from boats are as much a hazard to killer whales as is lack of food.
The no fin-fish ban has brought politicians and local fishing organizations together to convince DFO to to lift or amend the closure.
Sooke Mayor Maja Tait wants to talk further with her council on the community’s response to the closure, while Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke MP Randall Garrison wants DFO to consider the conservation and enhancement efforts of local anglers.
“Closures to salmon fisheries in the Strait of Juan de Fuca must be balanced with an understanding of the role of fishing communities in moving conservation and enhancement efforts forward in order to be effective,” Garrison stated in a press release.
Along with the Strait of Juan de Fuca ban, DFO also announced fishing curtailment near the mouth of the Fraser River and in areas around Pender and Saturna Islands.
The Raincoast Conservation Foundation, the David Suzuki Foundation and others have petitioned the federal government to curtail sport fishing and whale watching in orca-feeding areas.
DFO is expected to announce more conservative measures soon.