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Rules curb activities with seals, sea lions

Mar 28 2012

Feeding seals and swimming with sea lions are among activities prohibited under proposed amendments to the Canadian marine-mammal regulations.

The regulations, which were posted Tuesday for a two-month public comment period, tighten up rules for activities such as whale-watching, but are unlikely to mean substantial changes for businesses, said Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans marine mammal co-ordinator.

Previously, the rules were in the form of guidelines rather than national regulations, Cottrell said.

"I think it will be easier to prosecute," he said.

"The vast majority of the industry is good, but you do get individuals that sometimes push the limits," he said.

The minimum approach distance for marine mammals will remain at 100 metres, the same distance as in the guidelines. In the U.S., boats must stay back 183 metres (200 yards) from whales.

The regulations will allow changes to be made for specific areas, if necessary, Cottrell said.

"We can look at additional measures in terms of approach distance," he said.

One of the major changes is a definition of disturbing marine mammals, which includes feeding them, swimming with them, enticing them or tagging them.

"We don't want people interacting with whales or pinnipeds [seals, etc.]. It's something that does occur periodically," Cottrell said.

Any accidents involving marine mammals must be reported to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and that will help assess threats to marine mammals, Cottrell said.

"It definitely means more protections for cetaceans and marine mammals. I think everyone in B.C. will be happy," he said.

Will Soltau of the Living Oceans Society said the new regulations appear to be positive.

"It does give more clarity to the general public on how to interact with marine mammals," he said.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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