Georgia Strait Alliance is the only citizens' group focused on protecting the marine environment in and around the whole Strait of Georgia – Canada's most at-risk natural environment, and the place where 70% of British Columbians live, work and play. We are committed to a future for our region that includes clean water and air, healthy wild salmon runs, rich marine life and natural areas, and sustainable communities.

April 16, 2014

Orcas in trouble: gov’t plan for inaction

Ever since early 2012 when the federal court made its final ruling mandating that the federal government protect resident orcas critical habitat, we’ve been waiting for the action plan that would clearly lay out how we would act to protect our endangered southern resident orcas and their habitat.

With the release last month of the draft orca action plan by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), it seems we’ll have to wait longer – and this is a tragedy in the making.

“Vague and inadequate” are the terms you’ll see over and over again in our joint submission to DFO, ably put together by our colleagues at Ecojustice on behalf of Georgia Strait Alliance, David Suzuki Foundation, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Wilderness Committee.

Photo: Lance Barrett-Lennard
Coming in at 21 pages, this so called ‘action plan’ is filled with language such as “considering action”, ”investigating” and “communicating”, all seemingly intended to make it look like something is being done while the major threats to orcas remain unabated. 

We firmly believe that research is essential, but an ‘action plan’ which is vague, with unspecific timelines and where the responsibility for many tasks is left to some unnamed agency in unacceptable.   We can tell you, someone named “other” is going to be very busy over the next 5 – 10 years!   What that means is the orca will continue to remain protected on paper alone - but in our local waters the dangers to their survival go unanswered and those whose responsibility it is to act are shirking their responsibility. 

According to the recovery strategy developed for both northern and southern resident orcas, these are the goals we need to reach in order for these whales to survive:

1.      Ensure that Resident Killer Whales have an adequate and accessible food supply to allow recovery;
2.      Ensure that chemical and biological pollutants do not prevent the recovery of Resident Killer Whale populations;
3.      Ensure that disturbance from human activities does not prevent the recovery of Resident Killer Whales;
4.      Protect critical habitat for Resident Killer Whales and identify additional areas for critical habitat designation and protection

As we state in our formal submission: “Unfortunately, while the Draft Action Plan identifies some important research projects, it generally fails to identify concrete actions or measures that will ensure any specific outcomes on the ground.”

Here are just a few of many incredible gaps in the “action plan”:       
  • In light of the many projects being proposed for the Strait, there is no mention in the action plan about “shipping” or “tankers” nor any proposed action on mitigating oil spill impact. The orca recovery strategy clearly lays out these issues as being of critical concern, yet the action plan remains silent. 
  • Research is a primary focus of this plan but with the slashing of research at the federal level, who is left to do it?  Notably, the closure of the lab led by world renowned marine mammal toxicologist Dr. Peter Ross has left the possibility of doing much of research listed as questionable.  So even in this ‘inaction plan’, the tasks identified are unlikely to occur as no one is responsible and no one is accountable
Again from our submission: “Unfortunately, apart from reiterating these four broad recovery objectives, in many other respects the Draft Action Plan is not based on the Recovery Strategy as is required.”

The orca recovery strategy laid out what needed to be done and in the last 2 ½ years, DFO has developed a plan that does not build on that strategy but instead asks us to wait – but the orcas can’t wait.

So what now? In our submission, we have made it clear to DFO that we demand better and we’ve laid out specific ways they can do that.  Also, we stated that we are willing to work with them to make this plan stronger because we believe it can be.

Orcas are not only a critical part of our local ecosystem but they are an integral part of our culture, society and economy – and we are committed to making their recovery a reality.

Your support has helped us be at the table to fight for the orcas for more than decade and we hope we can count on you as we continue to be the orcas voice at this important time because it seems from what we’ve read, the fight isn’t over.

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