DFO putting VI communities in an uproar

DFO is putting Vancouver Island communities in an uproar for an experiment that has no scientific validation. As some of you may know, our Southern Resident Killer Whale population from J and K pods are in trouble and there are a few likely causes which aren’t being addressed such as pollutants in the water, ship traffic, and whale watching boats constantly around the whales. Instead of addressing most likely causes, DFO is hoping to divert the attention by doing something most people that are close to salmon enhancement and sport fishing have great concern over.

2 of the largest issues for the whales are low reproductive rates and some whales not feeding as much as they should. The 2  pods (J and K) in concern go down into Pueguot Sound and the San Juan Islands for part of the year and around southern Vancouver Island for the other part. L pod, which spends most of its time in and around southern Vancouver Island, is doing fine. So why is lack of food obviously not the issue? Orca whales have been shown to prefer Chinook salmon over other types of salmon though they will eat other salmon as well. There are more Chinook salmon where the SRKW reside now in southern Vancouver Island area than there was 10 years ago. Also, its very rare (like once a year) for any of the SRKW’s to come north to LaPerouse Bank, one of the areas DFO is looking at making critical habitat. La Perouse Bank is a very productive bank and if the whales were hungry, they would make the short journey up there from the normal feeding areas on the Swiftsure bank and south.

Studies have shown that low reproduction rates possibly a result of POPs, PCPs and heavy metals (such as mercury) in the water. Also, large vessel noise interrupts escalation. However, there is little conclusive evidence that any one cause is the culprit.

Victoria dumps raw sewage which allows these dangerous chemicals to settle on the Ocean floor. One only has to look to YouTube to find out what the ocean floor looks like around Victoria. The sediment on the ocean floor around Victoria’s sewer output is not mud like you would see in a healthy environment but rather a disgusting picture you would expect to see in a horror film. Is this the cause? It definitely may contribute.

Both whales and salmon are swimming though the PCBs from Victoria with heavy metals coming from factories like Clover pt and MaCaulay pt. Scientific studies strongly suggest mortality rate is from infectious disease as these chemicals compromise the whales immune systems significantly.

These chemicals are passed from mother to young, and each generation has progressively more toxins. SRKW are among the most contaminated species in the world! These toxins are also entering some of the resident Chinook salmon which the whales are eating and can contribute to low return and reproduction rates. Levels of toxins are 4-6x higher in SRKW then the northern counterparts, which may contribute to numbers continue to fall and reproduction rates are dropping. While we know these toxins are not good, scientists have been baffled by the Transient Orcas not having problems with declining numbers. Transient Orcas eat local seals which are filled with toxins, yet at this point we haven’t seen those pods decline. Toxins are not the only contributor.

It is possible that whale watching boats staying around the whales all hours of the day have influence. There are times when the whales actually choose to come close to the boats on their own, so this also is difficult to determine. The limit for approach was increased to 200 meters not too long ago.

Critical Habitat designation

At present DFO are proposing expansion of Critical Habitat under SARA, which then leads to management actions within 180 days.  Those actions could likely follow the Area Closure implemented in Area 20 off Sooke which has closed vast areas to all fin fishing, while allowing unfettered access and activity for other vessel users.

There are many reasons this is a bad idea. At present there are no scientists that have back this idea.

The proposed designation by DFO includes all fin fish on both LaParouse  and Swiftsure Bank. Closing these areas does not make any sense. If the whales were starving from lack of food, sports fisherman would see them come up to La Perouse Bank. Most seasoned guides from Ucluelet and Bamfield say they have encountered very few to no southern resident killer whales (SRKW) in the proposed area of closure and instead encounter more of their transient counterparts. Kieth Nakagawa, who has fished Big Bank for the past 30 years, says he only sighted Orcas there a handful of times and they are always Transient Offshore Orcas, not the SRKW. DFO over a 40 year period only has observed Resident Killer Whales on LaPerouse Bank 34 times – over 40 years.  That is less than once per year. How is this Critical Habitat? Perhaps we need to consider other scientifically backed reasons for the whales decline in numbers. With such a large food source so close to the population, it would suggest food scarcity is not the issue.

One would ask why are they targeting sport fishing? The Area Closure strategy DFO implemented in Sooke was done with little regard for consultation from the recreational sector or scientists and ended with closures only impacting recreational fishers. For other users it was business as usual, therefore no protection was accomplished to address physical and acoustic disturbance.

Long term effects of change will be felt through the southwestern communities of Sooke, Port Renfrew, Bamfield and Ucluelet which compete with many US towns for fishing tourism. These changes will be detrimental to each town’s reputation and tourists will be less likely to book here in future because of the chance of this reoccurring and perceived instability. These towns rely heavily on tourism from sport fishing. As an industry, sport fishing generates about 100 million to our national economy (as of 2012), creates 6150 full time jobs in Canada. Even if a closure takes effect for a few years and is lifted, it will take years to undo all the damage to the communities in bad publicity not to mention lost tourism revenue and shutting down a thriving industry.

Salmon Enhancement

Cutting down sport fishing will also contribute to lowered salmon enhancement. $200 000 is donated annually by sport fishing companies to Salmon enhancement. These funds will be greatly decreased if fishing is closed. Sport fisherman have vested interest in preserving Salmon. Currently, 50% of applications for habitat improvements get turned down by Pacific Salmon foundation due to lack of funds. Very little help comes from DFO and the Federal government.

DFO has cut down on production of hatchery salmon since the mid 80’s. Groups like the Pacific Salmon Foundation have tried to pick up the slack but we need DFO to work solutions for increasing salmon in rivers instead of doing cutback on the ocean. We need DFO to make sure the fishery for herring increases the herring mass from year to year. In the late 2000’s we saw the Pilchards come back on the west coast. In 2010,2011,2012 commercial boats fish until all the Pilchards were gone. We need these kind of destructive policies changed.

What are possible solutions?

  • Have higher industry standards for run off and sewage dumping.
  • The recreational sector believes there are other more effective protection strategies such as mobile bubble zones of 400m to keep all vessels away from foraging whales…sounders turned off, and required to cease fishing activity and immediately slowly depart the area where whales are present.
  • There have been times of higher and lower Chinook abundance. Much of that abundance was hatchery origin chinook yet many of those hatcheries, especially on the Fraser River, no longer operate today or operate at much lower production levels.
  • reroute large tankers

There is no scientific evidence to support that a shutdown with have a positive effect on salmon or whales, but ample proof that it will have a bad effect on the economy and livelihoods of our community. The actual locations and timing of foraging behaviour in the proposed critical habitat extension do not appear even remotely conclusive – especially in the portions of the proposed Critical Habitat zone around La Perouse and Swiftsure Banks.

There are solutions available that will actually solve problems rather than addressing symptoms. If the government is willing to make the right investments, Chinook abundance can be enhanced and restored to allow for both fisheries and abundant prey for RKW’s.  The focus should be on producing more Chinook salmon rather than catching less. The 80’s and 90’s produced abundances of Chinook that provided for large scale commercial fisheries, a growing recreational fishery and an increasing RKW population.

We must rise together as a community, as a province and as a country to do what is needed to protect our whales and our salmon. Our actions must be founded in scientific research and the research is telling us to clean up our act because time is running out on our precious coast.


Submit you input before November 3 to DFO:

Please email to SARA.XPAC@dfo-mpo.gc.ca to let them know your opinion and how it will affect you and your community.

  • Gord Johns, MP for Alberni-Ucluelet gord.johns@parl.gc.ca 844-620-9924
  • Murray Ranklin, MP for Victoria  250-363-3600  murray.rankin@parl.gc.ca

Other helpful links:



Sample letter:

Dear Minister,

There is no scientific evidence to support that a Critical Habitat designation resulting in large area shutdowns will have a positive effect on salmon or whales, but ample proof that it will have a bad effect on the economy and livelihoods of our coastal communities.

You do not have any empirical evidence showing that SRKW actually use these areas more than just infrequently.   Recreational and Commercial fisherman have rarely observed SRKW in the proposed Critical Habitat extension – some who have 20 to 50 years experience.   DFO over a 40 year period only has observed Resident Killer Whales on LaPerouse Bank 34 times – over 40 years.  That is less than once per year. How is this Critical Habitat?