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Federal government efforts to save threatened southern resident killer whales could endanger the survival of communities on Vancouver Island whose economies depend on sport fishing and tourism revenues, a coalition of tourism, business and recreational fishing groups said Thursday.

About two dozen leaders gathered at a popular sport fishing marina near Victoria to warn the federal government almost 10,000 jobs are at stake as well as the futures of several cities, towns and villages on the Island that base their incomes on fishing and tourism.

The coalition calls itself Thriving Orcas, Thriving Communities and said the federal government has extended a 5,000 square kilometre critical habitat zone off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island that could result in fishing closures to protect the whales, whose population stands at 74.

Val Litwin, president of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, said 18 communities have come together to form the coalition.

Karl Ablack of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce said recreational fishing generates almost $1-billion for the B.C. economy and employs more than 8,400 people.

He said Port Renfrew, located about 100 kilometres northwest of Victoria, has transformed itself from a struggling forest-dependent community to a vibrant sport fishing destination.

“The strength of our local economy is now based and primarily dependent upon our anchor industry, which is the sport and recreational fishing industry,” said Ablack.

“It will, without question, economically devastate our community as well as other coastal communities on Vancouver Island.”

Ryan Chamberland, a fishing lodge operator in the Sooke area, said sport fishing closures last year in his region near Victoria hurt businesses and fishing operators. He said charter bookings for the coming season are already down up to 80 per cent.

“The people who operate regularly in these areas know that there’s room for both of us in our coastal waters,” he added.

A Fisheries and Oceans Canada report this year said the killer whale recovery strategy aims to “ensure the long-term viability of resident killer whale populations by achieving and maintaining demographic conditions that preserve their reproductive potential, genetic variation and cultural continuity.”

The report cites four principal objectives: ensure adequate food supply, limit pollution, reduce noise disturbance and protect and identify areas for protection and critical habitat.

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