The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has announced sweeping new rules to protect endangered southern resident killer whales off the coast of British Columbia.
Starting June 1, the minimum distance ships must keep from all killer whales will double to 400 metres, although commercial whale-watchers can apply for authorization to view whales other than southern residents from 200 metres away.
No vessel traffic will be allowed in “interim sanctuary zones,” at Swiftsure Bank, off southwestern Vancouver Island, and near Pender and Saturna islands, two Gulf Islands.
The department is immediately asking ships to voluntarily turn off echo sounders when not in use, allow engines to idle when within 400 metres of killer whales and, in some locations, go slow when they’re within one kilometre of southern residents.
The department is also closing recreational and commercial salmon fishing in parts of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Gulf Islands, which will take effect after previously announced restrictions on chinook fishing wrap up this summer and will extend through Oct. 31.
Federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the DFO will releasing an additional one million juvenile Chinook annually from Chilliwack Hatchery for five years to support.
Just 75 of the southern resident killer whales remain and they are listed as endangered in Canada. The department said that these initiatives address the main threats these killer whales face: lack of food, noise and physical disturbance from vessels, and contaminants from land-based sources.
The Canadian Press