Canada announces increased fishing restrictions to protect right whales

Canadian Fisheries Minister Dominique LeBlanc and Transportation Minister Marc Garneau have announced increased protections North Atlantic right whales, including restrictions on the country’s snow crab fishery.

Speed limits, a reduction in snow crab gear, and greater surveillance lead the conservation efforts, which are the latest in a series of reforms made by Canada in the wake of 18 right whale mortalities in 2017, including 12 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The changes are designed to combat the two leading causes of death for right whales: blunt force trauma caused by ship strikes and entanglement with crab gear.

Speaking in Ottawa on Wednesday, 28 March, the ministers outlined additional changes for 2018: 

  • The snow crab fishery in area 12 will start earlier and close earlier. All fishing gear must be out of the water by 30 June, 2018.
  • There will be a reduction in mid-shore trap numbers for 2018 compared to 2017
  • Temporary and fixed fishery management areas and closures will go into effect when right whales are present.
  • A 10-knot speed limit will be in effect in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence between 28 April 28 to 15 November for vessels 20 meters or more in length. The speed restriction zone may be amended as needed.
  • Two shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island will allow larger vessels to travel at normal speeds if there are no whales in the area. However, the presence of a single right whale in this area will trigger a mandatory 15-day slowdown which can be increased as needed.
  • The pause on right whale disentanglements at sea, put in place after the death of a member of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, has been lifted and CAD 1 million (USD 773.6 million, EUR 628.5 million) per year for five years will be made available to support marine mammal response groups.

As previously announced, the implementation of requirements for fishermen to keep better track of rope and buoys, as well as mandatory reporting of lost gear. 

  • A new requirement is for all commercial license holders to report all interactions with whales.
  • A requirement that snow crab vessels report their on-water activity to the DFO vessel monitoring system to ensure compliance with new measures.
  • In support of these measures, there will be increased aerial and at-sea surveillance of whales.

“Most of the measures come from suggestions by the fisheries themselves,” LeBlanc told the CBC.

To assist the industry as much as possible, the government will provide an icebreaker and a hovercraft to break up ice in some of Eastern Canada’s smaller harbors so fishermen can launch their season as soon as possible and finish fishing before the right whales arrive.

"We are very confident that these measures will have a very significant impact in protecting right whales and in ensuring their recovery,” LeBlanc said.

Concerned about the lack of calves reported for the 2018 birthing period, he added the government felt the need to "to act quickly.”

“We think if we don't act in a very robust way, we'll be set on course for a very tragic outcome,” he said.

In addition to these measures, the government has committed to spending CAD 167.4 million (USD 129.5 million, EUR 105.2 million) over the next five years to study factors impacting the health of and address human threats to North Atlantic right whales, southern resident killer whales and St. Lawrence Estuary beluga whales.

Photo courtesy of CBC


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