Will the new federal Budget be good for orcas? Maybe, but not for sure.
The Canadian 2018 budget committed $167.4 million to resuscitate “marine ecosystems”. The endangered resident orcas are specifically cited. There are fewer killer whales now than ever before. It is new and very exciting to have a special category for “Protecting Marine Life”*.
But is this enough to make a difference, and will it be spent in the right places?
That budget of 167.4 million is for 5 years. That’s about $56 million each year. In addition, the annual budget needs to be shared with the “North Atlantic right whale and the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga”*. No question these endangered species need money as desperately as the orca do. But now, the budget for the resident orcas is really $11 million or less each year. How much is this in reality?
It’s a limited budget, but can it be spent in the right places? Where money is spent is just as important as how much. Also, budgets are government creations, and governments determine where the money goes. Money spent well can be pivotal. Otherwise, it can endanger any recovery.
The government promised that the annual $11 million would be spent on research, not on specific concrete measures.
Relevant research is, obviously, very important, but it can be interminable and it can obstruct effective action when it matters most. Research does provide good information, but it does not do anything by itself to restore orcas. Research tells us, for example, that there is not enough food for orca, but it does not provide it. This research risks becoming a posthumous investigation.
What is important now? Today. Instead of research alone, what could the budget be spent on?
Which initiatives will have the most impact on orca survival? Don’t we know enough to do anything? Research has already confirmed many risks that are painfully obvious. Most ambitions we face were already recognized in the government “Target Dates for Completion of Action” for 2013 in the SARA (Species at Risk Act) of 20(1). This is 2018.
Do we need more research to know that orcas are starving? Pollution, recreational sport, and—most of all—the Fraser River fishery have decimated the Chinook population these resident whales depend on. This generation of researchers are asked to identify “factors that may negatively affect an adequate and accessible supply of prey”.
Wow. More “factors” than we already have? We could do something now about the “factors” we already know very well. Of course, action like that means change in the law. Chinook harvest would need to be very dramatically curtailed. Alaska did it in 2017. Not Canada. People, jobs, and tourist industries would all be affected. There is a clear decision to be made. We can revive the orca or we can sacrifice the present current maritime practices.
*All sources except (2) below come from the present 2018 Annual Budget https://www.budget.gc.ca/2018/docs/plan/chap-04-en.html
(2) http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=6AC53F6B-1 Species at Risk Act