The Department of Fisheries and Oceans have proposed an amendment to the Marine Mammal Regulations, which will call for a minimum 100 metre approach distance between vessels and marine mammals.
“The maintenance of this minimum separation gap between vehicles (including vessels) and marine mammals would provide a sufficient safety buffer for marine mammals and would reduce, in most cases, the impediment to the animal carrying out its normal life processes,” stated a Canada Gazette release published on March 24.
Normal life processes are activities like feeding, calving, mating, rearing offspring and migrating. Eighty-three species of whales, dolphins and porpoises and seals in Canadian waters are all protected under the amendments.
The amended regulations will also require anglers and boaters to report any incidences of contact between a marine mammal and vessels or fishing gear to the DFO.
Gerry Kristianson, chairman of the Sport Fishing Advisory Board, said one of the problems with the current amended regulation is the discernment between commercial and private vessels. Currently, the amendment exempts commercial vessels from the 100 metre approach distance when in transit.
“The regulation clearly ought not to discriminate between what kind of vessel is in transit,” he said, adding such a differentiation will give a charter operation an advantage as the private angler would not be permitted to travel to the same places.
It would also create problems for individuals who must commute by boat to get to and from home in areas where they will approach an animal within the 100 metre distance.
In addition, Kristianson said there needs to be clarification on whether or not a person would be in the wrong if an animal approached them within minimum distance.
He said the real question, however, is whether or not fishermen will be able to fish in spots within a 100 meters of areas normally congregated by seals.
According to the release, marine mammal watching will also come under the regulations, as whale watching vessels can disrupt the normal activities of animals in the short and long term.
Russ Nicks, owner of Sooke Coastal Explorations, said his whale watching business already complies with the 100 metre approach distance under the current regulations.
While Nicks agrees with the approach distances for conservation purposes, he also said sometimes the animals are unavoidable.
“They’ve actually altered their course to come towards us, so we’ve shut down and they’ve swam by with no problems,” Nicks said. “They’re not bothered by us at all.”
Under the new regulations humans are also prohibited from feeding, approaching, swimming, interacting with a marine mammal. Causing it to move from its immediate location, tag it or mark it is also forbidden.
Marine mammal disturbance licenses will be distributed in circumstances pertaining to conservation.
Public input on the amendment can be sent to: http://bit.ly/Im5JFs