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Proposed fishing closures threaten Port Renfrew’s economy: chamber

Community fears economic collapse as DFO proposes expanded closures to protect endangered whales
The salmon fishery is the economic lifeblood of the West Coast of Vancouver Island, says the president of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce. (Ilya Marchenko - Shutterstock)

The Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce is raising concerns about the potential economic impact of proposed fishing closures aimed at protecting endangered southern resident killer whales.

In a letter to federal Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier, chamber president Chris Tucker expressed the community’s “profound concerns” regarding ongoing discussions about expanding protected zones for the 75 remaining southern resident killer whales.

He highlighted the importance of recreational fishing and tourism to Port Renfrew’s economy, which historically relied heavily on logging. Since the decline of logging and the relocation of forestry operations, the community has invested significantly in recreational fishing infrastructure, leading to its growth and success over the past two decades.

“The prospect of closing the recreational fishery poses an imminent threat to our community, endangering numerous livelihoods dependent on this industry,” Tucker said.

He emphasized the negative impact such closures would have on businesses that have already received deposits for 2024 fishing charters and accommodations. He stressed the significant economic harm potential closures could inflict on the community.

Tucker estimated the economic impact during the peak 165-day season to be over $26 million, supporting the full-time population of approximately 500 people, including members of the Pacheedaht Nation.

While acknowledging the importance of southern resident killer whales’ protection, Tucker said that previous static closures for small recreational vessels have had minimal impact on Port Renfrew and other areas. He cited studies showing sufficient chinook salmon stocks, the southern resident killer whales’, primary food source, are available.

“This strategy has notably impacted the economy of many small communities throughout British Columbia with limited measurable environmental benefits,” Tucker wrote, emphasizing the need for careful reconsideration before further measures are enacted.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans confirmed by email that the government began consultations with Indigenous groups and stakeholders last fall to review management measures for 2024 and 2025. These proposed measures were developed based on feedback received from various groups, including Indigenous communities, stakeholders, and the public through meetings, written correspondence, and an online survey. The consultation period ended on Feb. 12.

The response further stated that socio-economic impacts are one of the main considerations when evaluating management options, and all feedback is carefully weighed during the decision-making process.

The consultation process involved diverse groups, including Indigenous communities, coastal communities, fish harvesters, whale-watching operators, recreational boaters, and environmental organizations, providing feedback on both the potential benefits and drawbacks of southern resident killer whales’ management measures.

The government is currently evaluating all feedback received through six key criteria including, the likelihood of benefit to southern resident killer whales, scientific justification and integration of Indigenous or local knowledge, respect for Indigenous rights, socioeconomic impacts, ease of implementation, and monitoring and enforcement.

These criteria will inform final decisions regarding southern resident killer whales management measures for 2024 and 2025.

Southern resident killer whales foraging success is influenced by both prey abundance and accessibility, which can be affected by factors like human disturbances, vessel traffic noise, and exposure to contaminants.

Since 2019, the federal government has implemented various measures to support the recovery southern resident killer whales population.

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About the Author: Rick Stiebel

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