Jen Dart, Executive Director, Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, speaks about protecting marine-based tourism in Victoria last week. Port Alberni chamber executive director Bill Collette, right, represents the Alberni Valley. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Vancouver Island chambers unite to protect marine-based tourism

Fears over an extended protection area for Southern Resident killer whales prompts action

Chambers of commerce on Vancouver Island have united to protect the marine-based tourism on which their members depend following the federal government’s designation of a 5,025-square-kilometre Northern and Southern Resident Killer Whale critical habitat zone.

Chamber representatives are urging the federal government to carefully weigh any further management measures against the damage they say could happen to the economies of coastal communities.

Representatives from 17 chambers in Port Alberni, 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 called their coalition “Thriving Orcas, Thriving Coastal Communities.”

Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce executive director Bill Collette made the trip to Esquimalt for the announcement, saying the AVCOC supports the protection of marine-based tourism.

“We’re concerned about our businesses, the economic challenges that could be faced were a decision made that affected our ability to continue with our fisheries on the west coast of the Island,” Collette said.

“It could be significantly damaging to us. All our marine businesses…they all have clients that access those waters— a significant portion of those businesses. It absolutely affects us,” he said.

The critical habitat zone off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island is an extension of the zone in the Juan de Fuca Strait. Recreational fishing restrictions placed on portions of that zone last spring were said to impact marine-based tourism in Sooke. The chamber representatives fear Fisheries Canada could extend the zone north past Ucluelet and 60 kilometres out to sea. If that happens, it could lead to a closure of recreational fishing at the La Perouse and Swiftsure banks on which several Vancouver Island communities depend.

Karl Ablack, vice-president of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce said the coalition’s members are still passionate supporters of 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,” Ablack said.

“We care about the whale population,” Collette added. “We’re not fighting that at all. We want to see populations survive, and we think everybody’s doing their best to ensure that they do.

“Our concern is what appears to be a lack of science behind the (decision) and others that may come.”

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 as well as the knowledge of local stakeholders and leading cetacean experts.

“The expanded critical habitat zone could have an enormous impact on thousands of Vancouver Island tourism operators,” Walt Judas, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of British Columbia said.

“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.”

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Jen Dart, Executive Director, Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, speaks about protecting marine-based tourism in Victoria last week. SUBMITTED PHOTO

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