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Review of the Effectiveness of Recovery Measures for Southern Resident Killer Whales

Effectiveness of Recovery Measures related to Critical Habitat

Review of the Effectiveness of Recovery Measures for Southern Resident Killer Whales

Review of the Effectiveness of Recovery Measures for Southern Resident Killer Whales (PDF, 1.36 MB)

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7.0 Effectiveness of Recovery Measures related to Critical Habitat

Identification of the habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of a SARA-listed threatened or endangered population (termed “critical habitat”) is a requirement under SARA. The identification and protection of Critical Habitat for any aquatic species at risk does not directly reduce a specific threat to that species but once identified and published in a recovery strategy, legal protection of the critical habitat is required. In 2009, identification and protection of SRKW critical habitat was undertaken, and encompasses the Canadian portion of the Salish Sea, specifically the transboundary areas of southern British Columbia and Washington State, including Haro Strait and Boundary Pass and adjoining areas in the Strait of Georgia and the Strait of Juan de Fuca (see Figure 4 in DFO 2011). The U.S. portion of the Salish Sea was identified as Critical Habitat under the U.S. ESA in 2006 (DFO 2011; Ford 2006; NMFS 2006). In Canada under SARA, this has added a higher level of scrutiny of human activities that could destroy the habitat. The SARA protects critical habitat from destruction (destruction would result if part of the critical habitat were degraded, either permanently or temporarily, such that it would not serve its function when needed by the species) (Table 2).

For example, underwater noise is very high in SRKW habitat in the Salish Sea, compared to elsewhere in coastal BC. Underwater noise has resulted in masking of communication, leading to alterations in foraging behaviour. Furthermore, since shipping noise is identified as an activity likely to destroy Critical Habitat (DFO 2011), any temporary loss of function should warrant very high priority for management action to reduce this threat particularly as it may be considered destruction under the SARA (DFO 2017c).

Two Recovery Measures (16 and 83) are focussed on further identification of important habitat. It is recognized that the entire critical habitat in the Canadian range of this population has not been identified, and further research is required to complete the identification of all the habitat necessary to support survival and recovery. Science advice regarding an additional area of SRKW important habitat off southwestern Vancouver Island has been developed and peer reviewed (DFO 2017b).

One Recovery Measure (85) is focussed on refining our understanding of the functions, features and attributes of critical habitat. This measure is important because improved understanding of the features and attributes that support the identified function can help to clarify what would constitute destruction under SARA. This measure is important although it is very difficult to determine thresholds or measures of habitat quality.

One Recovery Measure (17) on the review and assessment of proposed development project impacts is currently underway. DFO's Fisheries Protection Program is responsible for project review and seeks advice from DFO Science regarding project impacts to SRKW, and provision of advice on, or review of proposed mitigation measures.

Effectiveness of actions

The action to review and assess proposed development projects to determine if they could lead to destruction of Critical Habitat, as defined and protected under SARA, has the potential to be effective at reducing any one of the major threats, as well as the new threat of ship strike in Critical Habitat. Indeed, while not a direct reduction of a threat, it is because of Critical Habitat designation that recent scrutiny of proposed development projects in SRKW habitat have led to a technical advisory teams to advise on the environmental assessment on the effects of noise and knowledge of killer whale acoustic signalling (SMRU Consulting Canada 2014). However, it has not yet resulted in implementation of actions that reduce underwater noise. In addition, review of proposed development projects that have the potential to result in increased vessel traffic have provided significant opportunity to engage with stakeholders and contributed to the initiation of the Port of Vancouver's ECHO program, which has a number of proposed acoustic mitigation measures slated for implementation in the summer of 2017.

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