Coastal communities warn potential closures could have devastating effects on local economies.

Following the federal government’s designation of a 5,025-square kilometer Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whale critical habitat (CH) zone off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, 17 Island Chambers of Commerce have united to protect the marine-based tourism on which they depend and urge the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to carefully weigh potential management measures that could harm their coastal communities, destroy thousands of business and jobs, and impact tourism revenue across Vancouver Island.

The new critical habitat zone is an extension of the zone in the Juan de Fuca Strait. Recreational fishing restrictions placed on portions of that zone this spring seriously impacted marine-based tourism and associated land-based economic activities, including employment, in Sooke. It is now feared that the extension of the zone northward past Ucluelet and 60 km out to sea could lead to a closure of recreational fishing at the La Perouse and Swiftsure banks on which several Vancouver Island communities depend.

In an effort to protect their communities, the Chambers of Alberni Valley, Bamfield, Campbell River, Chemainus & District, Comox Valley, Duncan-Cowichan, Ladysmith, Greater Nanaimo, Parksville & District, Port Hardy, Port McNeill & District, Port Renfrew, Qualicum Beach, Sooke, Tofino-Long Beach, Ucluelet and WestShore have united to form a coalition called Thriving Orcas, Thriving Coastal Communities.

Collectively, the Chambers’ coalition represents more than three thousand businesses across Vancouver Island that depend directly or indirectly on marine-based tourism and the induced spending around these activities. As communities that have only recently battled back from forestry and commercial fishing closures to reach a level of economic viability, primarily through marine-based tourism, they now see themselves as critical habitats.

Speaking at a rally in Esquimalt today, the coalition members stressed that they are passionate supporters of all killer whale populations.

“No one recognizes the importance of protecting marine habitats and marine life more than the men and women in coastal communities who depend on strong fishing and tourism sectors to earn a living and feed their families,” said Karl Ablack, Vice President of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce. “The countless volunteer hours and millions of dollars anglers invest in salmon habitat and hatchery restoration work demonstrate that we are passionate supporters of BC’s Southern Resident Killer Whales and efforts to ensure their survival.”

Based on the DFO report identifying the critical habitat zone extension, local community chambers fear there may be further measures put in place that might curtail marine-based activities. Coalition members say no further actions impacting activity in the new critical habitat zone should be undertaken without more research and greater consultation to ensure any policy changes reflect the latest scientific research and the knowledge of local stakeholders and leading cetacean experts.

“Marine-based tourism and activity is the lifeblood of our communities,” said Ablack. “Recreational fishing alone generates nearly a billion dollars in direct revenue to the BC economy and employs more than 8,400 people. Thousands more jobs are supported by other marine-based tourism sectors, such as accommodations, travel, transportation, suppliers, fuel and others.

“If fin fish closures and restrictions on other marine tourism activities are put in place, we could see those totals reduced by as much as a third, with the vast majority of those job losses, business closures and lost revenue hitting coastal communities. As the federal government now works to define how best to manage the expanded critical habitat zone, our goal is to work closely and collaboratively with the Minister and government to come up with solutions that protect the orcas as well as our coastal communities and fishing and tourism sectors.”

While recently announced measures related to fish hatcheries, slow-down areas for ships, vessel orca monitoring systems, initiatives to reduce pollutants and vessel noise, and the announcement of $100 million in funding for salmon habitat protection and restoration are seen as positive, it’s feared the extension of the critical habitat zone could pave the way to new restrictive management measures.

Now faced with a critical habitat zone that was based on inconclusive research and limited local stakeholder knowledge and input, coalition members are hoping that, as the federal government considers its next steps, it will take a more measured and science-based approach that incorporates extensive research and scientific best practices; avoidance protocols; generations of local and Indigenous knowledge; and the published findings of leading marine and cetacean experts.

“As British Columbians who are now concerned about the survival of our own businesses and communities, we urge the federal government to slow down the implementation of any additional management measures, take the time to get the science right and engage coastal stakeholders,” said Ablack. “Potential restrictive management measures, such as a fin fish closure, that are based on faulty data and limited science could end up destroying our communities and do nothing to help the orcas. On the other hand, a carefully considered multi-faceted approach that includes deeper investments in restoration, enhancement, science and monitoring could ensure that orcas and coastal communities thrive together as we have for generations.”


 “Marine-based tourism is one of the pillars of Vancouver Island’s visitor economy. Hundreds of thousands of domestic and international tourists visit this region annually for recreational fishing, whale watching, boating, diving, and other marine-based experiences delivered by thousands of tourism professionals. This vital sector is a major contributor to the Island’s $2.3 billion tourism industry.”

Anthony Everett
CEO, Tourism Vancouver Island

“The expanded critical habitat zone could have an enormous impact on thousands of Vancouver Island tourism operators. While recognizing the goal of protecting southern resident killer whales, we also need to ensure marine-based tourism remains sustainable from an environmental, economic, social, and community perspective. To that end, we look forward to working with government to achieve the collective goals of all stakeholders.”

Walt Judas, 
CEO, Tourism Industry Association of British Columbia 

“Each year, the whale watching industry in BC educates hundreds of thousands of people on a range of topics that includes marine biology, oceanography, earth sciences, global climate change, prey availability, mammal zoology, salmon rehabilitation and all the political factors surrounding societies interactions with the oceans. As an industry that generates approximately $250 million in economic impact, we look forward to working with government to develop measures that protect marine life as well as marine based tourism.”

Alan McGillivray
President, Pacific Whale Watch Association (
Owner, Prince of Whales)

 We stand with the Chambers to voice our concern that if additional Area Closure measures are put in place, the social and economic harm that will inflict will devastate small coastal communities heavily reliant upon recreational fisheries.  We are eager to work with DFO to develop a number of key science-based strategies that will help ensure protection of SRKW, most notable being Avoidance Zones. 

Pat Ahern   President, West Coast Fishing Guides Association




  • BC Chamber of Commerce
  • Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce 
  • Bamfield Chamber of Commerce 
  • Campbell River Chamber of Commerce
  • Chemainus & District Chamber of Commerce  
  • Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce    
  • Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce     
  • Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce   
  • Nanaimo (Greater) Chamber of Commerce
  • Parksville & District Chamber of Commerce 
  • Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce
  • Port McNeill & District Chamber of Commerce
  • Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce 
  • Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce
  • Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce   
  • Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce 
  • Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce 
  • WestShore Chamber of Commerce



The critical habitat zone extension off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island is a 5, area that extends from the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait to Quisitis Point (north of Ucluelet), and approximately 60 kilometres out to sea. The CH Zone includes La Pérouse Bank and Swiftsure Bank, which are vital areas for recreational fishing.

(Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada)



Recreational Fishing

  • $936 million in direct revenue to the BC economy
  • 8,400 jobs
  • Community businesses that are directly or indirectly supported by recreational fishing include: fuel docks, gas stations, grocery stores, hotels/motels/resorts, restaurants, bars/lounges, flight operators, car rentals, tackle shops, marine mechanics and providers of other tourism-related goods and services.

(Source: 2010 National Recreational Fishing Survey and 2012 Province of BC Fisheries and Aquaculture Report)

Whale Watching

According to the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA), the Canadian whale watching industry generates $35 million in annual revenues, which provides an economic impact of approximately $250 million.


Thriving Orcas, Thriving Coastal Communities
 enthusiastically supports DFO’s decision to conduct further research on La Perouse Bank and Swiftsure Bank to address gaps in science and seeks further opportunities to actively work with DFO to ensure we apply the best available science to guide future management decisions in a collaborative process with key experts and stakeholders. To that end, we have developed a suite of recommended management measures that offer science-based protection for whales, and collaborative strategies to help augment the scientific community’s understanding of key issues that contribute to a robust and thoughtful recovery strategy for SRKW.

Avoidance Protocols

With a 200-metre avoidance zone already in effect for killer whales, we look forward to engaging with DFO and leading cetacean experts to ensure any policy evaluations or changes reflect the latest scientific research and the knowledge of local stakeholders.

Special Management Zones (SMZ) in High SRKW Forage Use Areas

  • With guidance from a multi-sectoral CH Advisory Group, establish Special Management Zones that would identify with pinpoint precision specific small areas of high-use that would allow for special measures to be taken.
  • Closely monitored SMZ areas could be opened or closed at times when SRKW are foraging.
  • Ongoing research would be conducted to measure SMZ effectiveness and identify where additional SMZ areas might be required.
  • Implement a Science Panel of independent experts to provide the Minister and Cabinet with independent scientific review, research and advice related to management options and issues.
  • Work with key Subject Matter Experts (SME) from stakeholder groups to identify special habitat areas of SRKW high-use. (Experiment with small scale area & time closures to obtain well-designed comparative studies to measure and understand effectiveness.)
  • Consider monitoring high-use areas and implementing short-term measures, such as vessel closures only in places and during times when SRKWs are foraging.
  • Work with independent science advisors and stakeholder SME to develop effective monitoring protocols to actively measure management actions implemented in CH areas.

Prey Availability Working Group

  • Conduct targeted research to better understand Chinook abundance trends, and spatial distribution in critical habitat areas.
  • Conduct targeted research to better understand impediments to SRKW acquisition of prey.
  • Develop future strategies to enhance prey availability.
  • Identify Chinook stocks that contribute most to SRKW diet and provide advice to DFO regarding priorities for enhancement or special fishery management measures to increase abundance.
  • Identify and assess threats impeding SRKWs from successfully accessing prey and develop management measures to improve prey acquisition outcomes.

Establish a Military Live Fire Bubble Zone

  • Live fire exercises create significant acoustic and physical disturbance impacting SRKW prey acquisition.
  • Work with the Military to develop protocols to establish a five-nautical mile bubble zone radius to ensure no live fire exercise is conducted when SRKW are within the bubble zone range.

Increase User Conservation Fees to Fund Chinook Enhancement

  • Conservation fees are currently charged to recreational fishers, with all funds directed to the Pacific Salmon Foundation to fund conservation programs.
  • Establish similar conservation fund fees for all stakeholder groups (Recreational fishing, commercial fishing, whale watching passengers).
  • Increase existing recreational salmon conservation fees to provide more funding for salmon enhancement. (Funds created would be applied only to Chinook enhancement and habitat.  
Greg Descantes

Pace Group