An orca calf swims alongside its mother. (Jared Towers)

Feds limit chinook fishery to help killer whale recovery

Chinook is main food source for only 76 southern residents killer whales left

The federal government is closing some recreational and commercial chinook fisheries on the West Coast in an effort to help save endangered southern resident killer whales.

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc says a lack of prey for the whales is one of the critical factors affecting their recovery.

Southern residents inhabit the waters from south and central Vancouver Island all the way to northern California where they hunt for the salmon.

There are just 76 of the whales left and LeBlanc says in a news release that a reduction in the total chinook fishery of 25 to 35 per cent will help conserve the orca’s main food source.

A department news release says the closures would be in the Juan de Fuca Strait and around portions of the Gulf Islands.

There will also be partial closures at the mouth of the Fraser River to protect key foraging areas for the whales.

READ MORE: No fish zones eyed to save killer whales along south coast

The government announced that over $9.5 million will be spent on eight projects across B.C. to help restore chinook salmon habitat.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says the species faces imminent threats to its survival and recovery, and the government needs to take concrete action.

“These iconic and awe-inspiring whales are cherished by Canadians across the country and visitors alike, and protecting them is essential to keeping our oceans healthy and dynamic — not just for today, but to ensure we leave a rich natural legacy to our kids and grandkids,” she said.

The population, which is made up of three separate pods, was diminished significantly in the 1960s and ’70s when about 47 of the whales were captured and relocated to aquariums. Previous studies have found that acoustic and physical disturbances, along with pollution also play a role in threatening the population.

The Fisheries Department says the whales are listed as an endangered species in both Canada and the United States.

The Canadian Press

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