Protecting the Southern Resident Killer Whale
Canadians expect the environment and the economy to go hand in hand. An important part of this involves taking unprecedented measures to help protect our coasts and preserve at-risk species, such as the iconic Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW).
The SRKW faces significant threats to its survival and recovery. These threats relate to: lack of availability of prey (mainly Chinook salmon); acoustic and physical disturbance from marine vessels; and contaminants in the water.
Through initiatives included in the $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, the $167.4-million Whales Initiative and $61.5-million in additional measures specific to the SRKW, we have taken significant steps to address the three key threats to the SRKWs. The measures include:
- requiring vessels to keep a minimum distance of 200 metres from all killer whales in Canada’s Pacific waters and a distance of 400 metres from SRKW critical habitat areas;
- creating two new areas of critical habitat for SRKW, increasing the area by 6,419 square kilometres to 10,714, to protect the marine ecosystem that is necessary for the survival and recovery of this species;
- partnering with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority on its Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation program to have vessels voluntarily slow down in Haro Strait and Boundary Pass;
- entering into an agreement with the Pacific Whale Watch Association, which will refrain from offering tours of the SRKWs;
- implementing trial bubble closures in three “Enhanced Management Areas” so that all commercial and recreational fish harvesters temporarily stop fishing activities between May and the end of October 2019 when killer whales are within one kilometre;
- enhancing regulatory control of five key persistent organic pollutants (including flame retardants and oil and gas repellents) until they have been completely phased out, and prohibiting two toxic flame retardants; and
- closing fisheries in key foraging areas and reducing the harvest of Chinook Salmon to allow SRKW better feeding opportunities.
The Government of Canada will also mitigate the environmental effects related to the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) project by building on existing federal programs and implementing new measures. The National Energy Board (NEB) will continue to regulate the project throughout its life cycle.
Following a 22-week reconsideration process, the CER submitted its Reconsideration Report on the project with an overall finding that the TMX project is in the Canadian public interest and should be approved subject to 156 conditions and 16 new recommendations.
All 156 of the CER’s proposed conditions are within the scope of its regulatory authority and TMC would be required to meet them for the project to proceed. Conditions imposed by the CER are legally binding.
The conditions cover a wide range of areas, including: emergency preparedness and response; protection of the environment; pipeline safety and integrity; consultation with affected Indigenous communities; socio-economic considerations; commercial support for the project prior to construction; and Trans Mountain Corporation’s (TMC) financial responsibilities.
The government has also asked the CER to amend six conditions to respond to concerns from Indigenous communities and address outstanding impacts to Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.
To view the full list of conditions, visit the CER’s condition compliance web page.
The CER made 16 recommendations related to marine shipping. These include: managing and monitoring the cumulative effects on the Salish Sea; measures to offset increased underwater noise and increased strike risk posed to Species at Risk Act-listed marine mammal and fish species; marine oil-spill response; marine shipping and small vessel safety; the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from marine vessels; and co-developing the Indigenous Advisory Monitoring Committee on the marine safety system.
The government has a broad response strategy to address the 16 recommendations. Recommendation five (#5) deals specifically with offsetting the effects of project-related marine vessels on marine mammal and fish species at risk, such as SRKW. The impacts of the proposed project represent a small proportion of the cumulative effects that are affecting the SRKW. The government is currently implementing multiple initiatives in a comprehensive plan of action to address the threats to the SRKW and its critical habitat. These initiatives are intended to reduce cumulative effects on the whales and are designed to more than offset the impacts of project-related traffic including vessel noise and strikes.
As part of the re-initiated Phase III consultations, consultation teams had an expanded mandate to discuss specific accommodation measures to address the concerns of potentially affected Indigenous groups. The government has put forward eight accommodation measures to focus on capacity building, long-term relationship building, marine safety, spill prevention, response capacity, cumulative effects, fish and fish habitat, quieter vessels and further terrestrial studies.
The Salish Sea Initiative responds to cumulative effects, including impacts on the SRKW. It is a long-term investment strategy to support First Nations along the Salish Sea to monitor and evaluate the impacts of human activities on their local ecosystem.
The Quiet Vessel Initiative will reduce vessel noise in the Salish Sea in order to protect the marine environment and vulnerable marine mammals — including the SRKW. This initiative will test the most promising, safe and efficient vessel designs, retrofits and operational practices to achieve noise reductions.
The Aquatic Habitat Restoration Fund will increase capacity within communities to protect and restore aquatic habitats impacted by the project. The goal is to restore fish habitats in ecological areas that have the greatest impact on overall fish stock.
To comply with the CER’s conditions, TMC is responsible for tracking the implementation of its commitments on the project. This includes working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and other stakeholders to implement the Action Plan for the Recovery of the SRKW, as well as developing other measures to assist in its recovery.
To view the full list of TMC commitments, please visit the Commitments Tracking Table.
Complemented by generational investments in Canada’s oceans and clean technology, the TMX project is clear evidence that Canada can grow its economy and deliver its natural resources to international markets while safeguarding the environment and advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
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