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‘I am superbly worried’: West Coast fishermen await decision on restrictions meant to protect orcas

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A year after the Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed off several West Coast sports fishing area to protect orcas, fishermen say they’re worried more closures are on the way along southern Vancouver Island. 

In 2017, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed several areas in the Juan de Fuca Strait to commercial and sport fishing between June and October.

The closure was part of the DFO’s efforts to protect a dwindling population of about 74 southern resident killer whales that feed on chinook salmon, which inhabit those waters in that time period.

Ryan Chamberland, president of the Sooke Region Tourism Association and owner of the Vancouver Island Lodge, says more closures would devastate the small fishing villages along the coast.

« Closing us down — ruining towns, everyone losing equity in their assets and properties, is not going to solve an issue, it’s going to create a crisis, » Chamberland said.

« No one wants to lose their houses and jobs and and their way of lifestyle and opportunities to be on the water. »

The concerns of sports fishermen come at a time when some marine mammal experts say the closures might not even help the endangered southern resident killer whale.

Ryan Chamberland, owner of the Vancouver Island Fishing Lodge in Sooke, B.C., fishes mostly for salmon and halibut. (Ryan Chamberland/Facebook)

In November, Ottawa announced it wants to establish new areas of critical habitat off the west coast of Vancouver Island for southern resident killer whales — the Swiftsure Bank in the Juan de Fuca Strait between Vancouver Island and Washington state, and La Perouse Bank off Tofino, B.C. 

The DFO says it has consulted on the the critical habitat areas and it’s still planning what fishing restrictions, if any, may be applied next year. Ottawa says designating the area as a critical habitat would also enable it to restrict other activities like whale watching and marine traffic, which some argue disturbs the orcas.

Chamberland was at the Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia’s annual conference in Vancouver on Thursday, where he says more potential closures were a hot topic.

According to the institute, sport fishing contributes more than $1 billion to the provincial economy each year. 

« I am superbly worried, » he said. « West Coast communities fully depend on the sport fishing industry. »

Effectiveness in question

Andrew Trites, director of the University of British Columbia’s Marine Mammal Research Unit, was also at the conference.

Trites says there isn’t enough evidence to support the view that banning sport fishing has any impact on the southern resident killer whales. 

« I think the intended goal is is all well and good. But I am a bit concerned that management actions are be being put into place without any attempts to determine whether or not they’re effective, » he said. 

Trites doesn’t deny that the southern resident orcas have a food problem — evidence shows that they are thinner than their cousins, the northern resident killer whales.

But he says the more than 600,000 large chinook salmon estimated in the areas where the southern resident orcas roam should be more than enough to feed them.

Southern resident killer whales are genetically different from northern resident killer whales, which are thriving by comparison. (Valerie Shore/Shorelines Photography)

« The thing is that we tend to look at the food problem as being in our backyard, » he said. 

When they’re not swimming along southern Vancouver Island, Trite says, southern resident killer whales spend the rest of the year along the coast of Oregon and California, where salmon-bearing rivers have been destroyed, dammed or drained.

He says those rivers no longer have enough salmon to feed the killer whales.

There is still some debate about whether marine traffic is blocking the orcas’ access to salmon, Trite says. But the DFO’s restrictions last year didn’t restrict marine traffic — just fishing. 

The DFO’s restrictions around the Juan de Fuca strait last summer didn’t include marine traffic. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

Worldwide attention

The plight of the whales attracted worldwide attention last summer, after the female orca known as J35 spent 17 days carrying her dead calf as she travelled through West Coast waters.

Only 74 of them remain, and there have not been any documented successful births since 2015. The southern residents are genetically and behaviourally distinct from other killer whales in B.C., and feed primarily on salmon.

Several factors have been attributed to the orcas’ slow demise, including lack of salmon, marine noise and inbreeding.

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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