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Beluga Whale Tour Operators call for judicial review of government regulations

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Beluga Whale Tour Operators call for judicial review of government regulations

Canada NewsWire

Fisheries and Oceans Minister's new regulations could shut them down

CHURCHILL, MB, July 20, 2018 /CNW/ - Wally Daudrich, Chair of the Churchill Beluga Whale Tour Operator Association (CBWTOA), announced, today, that members of the CBWTOA filed an application for judicial review in federal court, yesterday, of regulations recently brought into force by the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and affecting Beluga whale tours and interaction. Mr. Daudrich pointed to the important work tour operators do in protecting the whales. But the Minister's new regulations could shut down these family-run businesses and remove the Beluga whales' best friends.

Said Wally Daudrich, "Yesterday, I instructed legal counsel to file an application in federal court for a judicial review of new regulations from the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. The tours operated by the members of the Churchill Beluga Whale Tour Operator Association both enrich the habitat of the Beluga whales and protect the whales from hunters. Sadly, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard wants to shut down the operations of the Beluga whales' best friends:  the tour operators and their guests who travel to Churchill to view and to interact with the Belugas."

On June 22, 2018, the Government of Canada appears to have registered regulatory amendments which prohibit tour operators' bringing boats any nearer than 50 metres in some instances and no nearer than 100 metres in others. On the face of it, the amendments prohibit kayaking and snorkeling with or among the Beluga whales. According to the publication notice, the amendments came into effect upon registration.

The regulations seem to have been designed primarily to address concerns on fatalities of Beluga whales in the St. Lawrence Seaway from freighter traffic, and concerns about killer whale tours on Canada's west coast. However, the regulations are very problematic for Churchill region tour operators and the Beluga whales in the Hudson Bay basin. A "one size fits all" approach does not fit Churchill.

"Beluga whales are very social, and they approach our boats as soon as they leave dock, and kayakers and snorkelers as soon as they are in the water. It is not possible for tour operators to keep 50 metres distant, let alone 100 metres, from the Belugas. It looks to us like the only way for tour operators to comply is not to put boats, kayaks or snorkelers in the water. Further, for at least one of our members, snorkeling with Belugas represents two thirds of their business. Turning away guests who want to engage in these kinds of interaction would shutter our family-run businesses," added Daudrich.

Because they had heard of the possibility of new regulations, the CBWTOA attempted by letters dated November 30, 2017, and February 20, 2018, to engage the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, his ministerial office staff and officials of his department in a conversation about any regulations that would affect Beluga whale tours at and near Churchill, Manitoba. But the Minister and his department not only did not engage in a conversation, they did not even acknowledge receipt. The first the CBWTOA members learned of the contents of the regulatory amendments was when they were recently published in the Canada Gazette.

"We are very troubled that the Minister and his department put in place regulations affecting our businesses and our customers without any consultation with us. Worst of all, the Minister and his department brought these regulations into effect, without any prior notice, at the peak of our Beluga whale tour season serving guests who made reservations a year in advance. The tour operators have made significant outlays of planning, recruiting and training staff, purchasing capital equipment and bringing in supplies to serve these guests, well in advance of the season," explained Daudrich.

Beluga whales are very social, and the interaction between the whales and the tours appear to be a source of enrichment to the Beluga whales as well as a source of enjoyment for tour participants. Far from jeopardizing the Beluga whales, the tours operated by CBWTOA members enhance Beluga habitat, near Churchill, Manitoba.

Further, the presence of Beluga whale tours and tour operators discourages hunting of Beluga whales. The tour operators have video footage of Beluga whale carcasses from which a single strip of blubber had been taken. The threat to Churchill's Beluga whales does not come from tour operators, but from hunters.

The regulations as published appear to authorize the Minister to create an exemption. The tour operators have sent a letter to the Minister requesting this in respect of their boat tours, kayaking and snorkeling, on the grounds of the tours' enriching the Beluga habitat and on their role in protecting Beluga whales from hunting.

Concluded Mr. Daudrich, "In our letters of July 12th & 13th, 2018, I noted that the regulations authorize the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to create an exemption to the regulations, especially sub-sections 38(1)(a), 38(1)(b), & 38(1)(c) of Part V. We implore the Minister and his officials to act promptly as these regulations are putting at risk some 200 jobs as well as up to $10 million of economic activity in Churchill. Sadly, the Government of Canada adds this burden to its ongoing failure to achieve a solution with OmniTrax on the Hudson Bay Railway and the Port of Churchill, and new owners to operate these assets. With a rail link washed out more than a year ago and a port that is now shuttered, Churchill, Manitoba, can ill afford to lose these jobs and commercial activity."

The regulatory amendments, Regulations Amending the Marine Mammal Regulations: SOR/2018-126, Canada Gazette, Part II, Volume 152, Number 14, Registration: June 22, 2018, FISHERIES ACT, P.C. 2018-842 June 21, 2018, can be found at: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2018/2018-07-11/html/sor-dors126-eng.html.

 

SOURCE Churchill Beluga Whale Tour Operator Association

View original content: http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/July2018/20/c8794.html

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