Canada looking to add flexibility to right whale protection measures

Published on
October 30, 2018

Canadian authorities are seeking to add greater flexibility to fishing regulations put in place to protect critically endangered North American right whales.

At an industry roundtable in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, on Tuesday, 23 October, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Coast Guard (DFO) Jonathan Wilkinson signaled a willingness to lessen the severe restrictions placed on various fisheries in 2018 to protect the whales.

In 2017, the death of 12 right whales in Canadian waters prompted DFO to impose extreme measures on fishing, shipping, and maritime traffic for the 2018 season. No right whales died in Canadian waters during this period, and the stiff measures kept Canada’s fishery on the right side of U.S. marine mammal protection legislation, which helped maintain access to U.S. markets for Canadian suppliers. However, fishermen said the closures cost them millions of dollars.

In recent months, regulators, scientists, and fishermen have worked together to find an accommodation in procedures for protecting the right whales. As a result of this work, a new pilot project has been proposed for the Grand Manan lobster fishery. In 2018, the sighting of a single right whale caused a 15-day shutdown of the fishery. For 2019, it will be sufficient for the Grand Manan lobster fishermen to cut their trailing buoy when a right whale is spotted. 

New Brunswick Crab fishermen, who work in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, are hoping this potential new flexibility extends to them. Martin Noel of New Brunswick's Acadian Crab Fishermen's Association said his group supported that avenue.

“About 30 percent of the biomass is in that area. It's major,” Noel told the CBC. “If we can access that area before whales arrive, we will be able to accomplish a lot in terms of catching our quota, and when the whales arrive the area can be closed.”

Final fishing regulations to protect the right whales in 2019 will be formulated at a DFO scientific conference in Montreal, Quebec in November.

Last week, Canada’s environment commissioner issued a report that was highly critical of the country’s actions in protecting endangered marine mammals.

Photo courtesy of U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Reporting from Eastern Canada

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