Paul Pudwell/Sooke Coastal Explorations

No fish zones eyed to save killer whales along south coast

DFO proposes closing an area from Sheringham Point to East Point

A proposal by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to halt and reverse the decline of endangered, salmon-eating killer whales is coming at the cost of the recreation fishery, say local anglers.

The objectives of the proposed measures is to curtail sport fishing in feeding areas essential to the survival of the southern resident killer whales and to restrict fishing on specific chinook salmon populations that sustain the orcas, according to DFO.

The plan also calls for minimizing “physical and acoustic” contact in key foraging areas. It would only limit recreational fishing vessels.

RELATED: 225,000 chinook salmon will be released

DFO is proposing implementing salmon fishing or fin closure on a trial basis from May to September in four key areas: the mouth of the Fraser River, west side of Pender Island, south side of Saturna Island and the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Sheringham Point to East Point.

Monitoring is planned to compare southern resident killer whales foraging behaviour in neighbouring areas, which will remain open to fin fish.

“We’re not adverse to the closure. We’d prefer not to see them,” said Chris Bos, president of the South Vancouver Island Anglers Association and chair of the Sport Fishing Advisory board.

“We don’t see the merit of closing access to recreational fishing boats when everybody else can go out in that area too. It doesn’t make any sense at all.”

The anglers will propose changes to DFO such as a bubble zone that when the killer whales near fishing areas, recreational fishers will move to give the orcas a quiet refuge and feeding area.

Another possibility is to move the boundary in the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Sheringham Point to Point No Point. “Then you keep 95 per cent of the good fishing spots,” Bos said.

Capital Regional District Juan de Fuca Electoral Area director Mike Hicks said the proposed closure will be “devastating” to Sooke recreational guides and fishers.

“Many local fishers, myself included, would argue that orcas are not present in this particular area for most of the summer and a closure will not result in any measurable increase in chinook or acoustic disturbance,” Hicks wrote in a letter to DFO.

“It is my belief that your monitoring will confirm that southern resident killer whales will travel and forage wherever the highest concentration of chinook are prevalent.”

The southern resident killer whales are genetically and culturally distinct population that feed on salmon, rather than on marine animals.

There are only 76 members of the southern resident group left, down from 83 years ago, according to the Center for Whale Research in Washington state.

The southern resident group is listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act.

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.

The Sport Fishing Advisory Board will host a special meeting on the DFO proposals on March 6 at the Prestige Hotel. The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. DFO will also accept feedback on the proposals. You can email Ashley Dobko at ashley.dobko@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.



editor@sookenewsmirror.com

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