Snow crab fishery closed early due to whale entanglement concerns

Published on
July 14, 2017

Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed part of the country’s snow crab fishery two days before the season ended in a response to the death of whale rescue specialist Joe Howlett on 10 July. Howlett was killed while disentangling an endangered North Atlantic right whale from snow crab fishing gear and lines.

In addition, both Canada the United States announced the suspension of efforts to free large whales trapped in fishing gear until after they complete reviews of their emergency response protocols, according to the Canadian Press.

Canadian Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said his department may consider changes to the snow crab fishery in order to minimize whale entanglements and collisions between whales and fishing boats. 

“That review will be robust and it will be comprehensive because I'm not prepared to have a season next year with this many fatalities of whales and this much entanglement," LeBlanc told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "If we know the whales are going to be located in certain areas, how can we either remove the fishing gear or prevent the gear from being placed there?" 

The Canadian study will include research on why right whales have been changing their migratory patterns, a phenomenon potentially caused by warming ocean waters caused by climate change, according to the Center for Coastal Studies. Traditionally, North Atlantic right whales spend part of the winter along the coast of the southern part of the United States, and in the summer migrate to the Bay of Fundy through the Gulf of Maine. But this year, right whales have moved in large numbers into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where there is a large fishing zone and marine navigation route, according to the CBC.

Chris Oliver, assistant administrator for the fisheries division of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said NOAA and its partner agencies will continue to respond to  other reported stranding of marine mammals in distress, but that large mammal rescue will not take place until the departmental review of the process is complete.

“Because ensuring the safety of responders is of paramount importance, NOAA Fisheries is suspending all large whale entanglement response activities nationally until further notice, in order to review our own emergency response protocols in light of this event,” Oliver said.

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