Government of Canada unveils its 2019 plan for protecting North Atlantic right whales
February 7, 2019. Shippagan, New Brunswick, Government of Canada
Over the past two years, the Government of Canada has put in place measures to protect North Atlantic right whales. We continue our commitment toward protecting our endangered whales, and strengthening the economy.
Today the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, along with the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau and Member of Parliament for Acadie—Bathurst, Serge Cormier, announced how the Government of Canada will protect the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale during the 2019 season, while sustaining and growing the ocean economy that so many Eastern Canadians rely on.
The North Atlantic right whale faces two key threats: vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.
The advanced measures being announced today build off a successful 2018 season where not one North Atlantic right whale died in Canadian waters.
In developing these advanced measures, Government of Canada officials met with harvesters, shippers, Indigenous leaders, environmental organizations and other stakeholders to ensure we appropriately reflected on the 2018 experiences and looked to ensure the integrity of whale protection initiatives while also being as sensitive as possible to important economic interests.
In addition, five calves have been recently spotted in U.S. waters. An encouraging sign for this endangered species.
To reduce the probability of vessel strikes the Government is:
Re-introducing a mandatory speed restriction for vessels 20 metres or longer to a maximum of 10 knots when travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence starting on April 28.
Continuing to allow vessels to travel at safe operational speeds in parts of two shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island when no North Atlantic right whales are spotted in the area.
Adjusting the areas where the mandatory speed restriction applies to reflect North Atlantic right whale sightings to minimize impacts on the cruise ship industry and on community resupply.
To address the possibility of entanglements in fishing gear the Government is:
Adjusting the area closed to snow crab, lobster fisheries and all other non-tended fixed-gear fisheries in Atlantic Canada and Quebec to include the area where 90% of the North Atlantic Right Whale were sighted last year during the prime fishing season. This area is a little less than half the size it was in 2018 and is more elongated North-to-South than in 2018.
Keeping the overall protection area the same in terms of the combined season-long closure area and the area where temporary 15-day closures may occur for snow crab, lobster fisheries and all other non-tended fixed-gear fisheries following a sighting of one or more right whales.
Adjusting the protocol for temporary closures to include provisions for sightings of right whales in shallow waters less than 20 fathoms (approximately 36.5 metres deep). A 15-day closure will be triggered in waters less than 20 fathoms only if one or more right whales are spotted in shallow waters.
As noted, these advanced measures were not developed by the Government of Canada alone. The consultation with harvesters, communities, Indigenous leaders and industry was extensive. This includes what has been shared over the past months in regional meetings through Quebec and Atlantic Canada and a pan-Atlantic roundtable in Dartmouth with partners in October 2018 as well as new scientific advice resulting from the November CSAS process.
Similar to last year, the Government will continue to monitor for North Atlantic right whales and work with harvesters to minimize the amount of rope in the water, track rope and buoys, and to improve reporting of lost gear.
In 2018, aircraft under control of the Canadian Government logged over 2,075 hours in the air to track these endangered whales and to enforce fisheries closures. This is in addition to monitoring carried out by our U.S. partners. As a result, the Government has an additional year of scientific data that expanded our knowledge of the North Atlantic right whale. Many partnerships were also formed with environmental organizations, communities, universities, scientists, and harvesters and we thank all of our partners for their hard work and collaboration.
Finally, we continue to support industry trials of innovative fishing technologies and methods to prevent and mitigate whale entanglement. Fisheries and Oceans Canada will host a Gear Innovation Summit later this year, which will focus on technological solutions to reduce risk to whales as well as solutions to reduce or eliminate ghost gear. Ghost gear refers to any fishing equipment or fishing-related litter that has been abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded and is some of the most harmful and deadly debris found in oceans.
These measures complement the existing recovery efforts of the Species at Risk Act which include the North Atlantic Right Whale Recovery Strategy and Action Plan, as well as requirements pursuant to the Marine Mammal Regulations.
The Government is confident that these advanced measures will strengthen protections for the North Atlantic right whales, and we are committed to doing everything we can to help ensure the survival of the species and rebuilding of this endangered population.