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2021 management measures to protect Southern Resident killer whales

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Overview

The decline of the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population is linked to threats such as noise and disturbance from boats, and reduced availability of their preferred prey, chinook salmon, where wild populations of chinook salmon have declined dramatically in recent years. To address this, we are implementing management measures to protect chinook salmon, a vital food source for Southern Resident killer whales, and to minimize disturbance from vessels. We have also initiated actions to reduce the threat of contaminants.

Fishery management measures include closures to help increase the availability of Chinook salmon and decrease vessel disturbance in key Southern Resident killer whale foraging (feeding) areas in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Gulf Islands within Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat. Area based fishing closures for commercial and recreational salmon will be in place in a portion of Swiftsure Bank from July 16 to October 31, 2021 and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca from August 1 to October 31, 2021.

New for 2021, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) will be piloting a new fishing closure protocol for the southern Gulf Islands recreational and commercial salmon fisheries, whereby fishery closures are triggered by the first confirmed presence of Southern Resident killer whales in the area. The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority Enhancing Cetacean and Observation (ECHO) Program, working closely with its local partners, and the DFO Whale Tracking Network will begin monitoring the area staring June 1, 2021, and once a Southern Resident killer whale is confirmed, fishery closures will be triggered and will remain in place until October 31, 2021.

To further reduce noise and physical disturbance from vessels in portions of Southern Resident killer whale foraging areas, Interim Sanctuary Zones will be in effect from June 1 to November 30, 2021. Specifically, vessel traffic will be prohibited in a portion of Swiftsure Bank and off North Pender and Saturna Islands as per the Interim Order enacted under the Canada Shipping Act. Some exceptions will apply for, for example, vessels involved in Indigenous fishing for food, social or ceremonial purposes and vessels involved in emergency response.

To address vessel disturbance in the presence of whales, a mandatory 400-metre vessel approach distance for all killer whales is in effect until May 31, 2022 in southern BC coastal waters between Campbell River and just north of Ucluelet.

The Marine Mammal Regulations remain in effect year-round, and require maintaining a minimum 200 metre approach distance from all killer whales in Canadian Pacific waters other than those described above, and, 100 metres for other whales, porpoises and dolphins or 200 metres when the animal is in resting position or with a calf.

The Government of Canada is addressing the threat of contaminants by strengthening regulations and developing guidelines, increasing research and monitoring, encouraging data sharing, and expanding outreach and education initiatives.

When out on the water, there are also a number of actions you can take voluntarily to protect killer whales, as well as other marine mammals:

Maps of management measures

Overview of management measures

Overview of management measures

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Overview of management measures

Overview of management measures to protect Southern Resident killer whales

Map depicting areas affected by management measures

Strait of Juan de Fuca
  • Yellow area, Aug 1 to Oct 31: No recreational or commercial salmon fishing.
  • Pink area, Jun 1 to Oct 31: The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program Strait of Juan de Fuca voluntary inshore lateral displacement. Inshore vessels (tugs) move further away from shore into lateral displacement zone.
Swiftsure Bank
  • Red area, Jun 1 to Nov 30: Interim Sanctuary Zone - No fishing or boating (with exceptions)
  • Yellow area, July 16 to Oct 31: No recreational or commercial salmon fishing
  • Pink area, Jun 1 to Oct 31: The ECHO Program voluntary slowdown for outbound large commercial vessels in Swiftsure Bank: 11kn speed through the water (bulkers, tankers, general cargo) or 14.5kn speed through the water (containers, car carriers, cruise).
Gulf Islands
  • Red area, Jun 1 to Nov 30: Interim Sanctuary Zones - No fishing or boating (with exceptions)
  • Yellow area, potentially active starting Jun 1 to Oct 31: No recreational or commercial salmon fishing in effect based on first confirmed presence of Southern Resident Killer Whales until October 31.
  • Pink area, potentially active between Jun 1 to Nov 30, based on whale presence: The ECHO Program Haro Strait and Boundary Pass voluntary vessel slowdown. Large commercial vessel slowdown: 11kn speed through the water (bulkers, tankers, general cargo) or 14.5 kn speed through the water (containers, car carriers, cruise).
Orange area
  • In effect until May 31, 2022: Stay 400m away from killer whales (with some exceptions) in all southern BC coastal waters between Campbell River and just north of Ucluelet.
Canadian Pacific waters (Year round)
  • Stay 200m away from all killer whales, except when in southern BC coastal waters between Campbell River and just north of Ucluelet (orange areas).
  • Stay 200m away from all whales, dolphins and porpoises when in resting position or with a calf
  • Stay 100m away from all other whales, dolphins and porpoises
  • Voluntary measures:
    • Voluntary fishing avoidance zone: Stop fishing (do not haul gear) within 1000m of killer whales
    • Reduce speed to less than 7 knots when within 1000m of the nearest marine mammal
    • When safe to do so turn off echo sounders and fish finders when not in use
    • Place engine in neutral idle and allow animals to pass if your vessel is not in compliance with the approach distance regulations
Gulf Islands management measures

Gulf Islands management measures

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Gulf Islands management measures

Gulf Islands (Pender)

  • Jun 1 to Nov 30: No vessels or fishing (with some exceptions) in the Interim Sanctuary Zone located in a portion of Subarea 18-4. Human-powered vessels may use a 20 m transit corridor along the shoreline.
  • Potentially active starting Jun 1 to Oct 31: No recreational or commercial salmon fishing in Subarea 18-9 and portions of Subareas 18-2 and 18-4 in effect based on first confirmed presence of Southern Resident Killer Whales until October 31.

Gulf Islands (Saturna)

  • Jun 1 to Nov 30: No vessels or fishing (with some exceptions) in the Interim Sanctuary Zone located in portions of Subarea 18-5 and 18-11. Human-powered vessels may use a 20 m transit corridor along the shoreline.
  • Potentially active starting Jun 1 to Oct. 31: No recreational or commercial fishing for salmon in portions of Subareas 18-4 and 18-5 in effect based on first confirmed presence of Southern Resident Killer Whales until October 31.
Juan de Fuca management measures

Juan de Fuca management measures

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Juan de Fuca management measures

Juan de Fuca

  • Jun 1 to Nov 30: No vessels or fishing (with some exceptions) in the Interim Sanctuary Zone located in portions of Subareas 121-1 and 121-2.
  • Jul 16 to Oct 31: No recreational or commercial fishing for salmon in portion of Subarea 121-1.
  • Aug 1 to Oct 31: No recreational or commercial fishing for salmon in Subareas 20-3 and 20-4.

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