Government of Canada unveils plan for protecting North Atlantic right whales in 2018

Ministers LeBlanc and Garneau, along with MP Karen Ludwig, announce plans for protecting North Atlantic right whales.

The Government of Canada is concerned about the deaths of endangered North Atlantic right whales and is implementing measures to help protect North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Last year, an unprecedented number of right whales died in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. To protect these whales from further harm, the Government of Canada put urgent measures in place, which included shutting down the snow crab fishery in the area to minimize gear entanglements, increasing surveillance and implementing a slowdown on large vessels to avoid collisions. The Honorable Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and the Honorable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, announced several new measures for 2018 to help protect this highly endangered species.

After extensive consultation this winter with partners, experts, stakeholders and indigenous groups, the following measures will be put in place in 2018:

  • Imposing a mandatory speed restriction from April 28 until November 15 for vessels 20 meters or longer to a maximum of 10 knots when travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence. The speed restriction zone may be changed as needed.
  • Allowing vessels to travel at normal speeds in parts of two shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island when no whales are in the area. A 15-day mandatory slowdown of 10 knots will be activated within a section of the shipping lanes when one North Atlantic right whale is spotted and can be extended as needed.
  • Opening the southern Gulf snow crab season earlier (if possible) and closing the season earlier with all fishing fleets in area 12 beginning simultaneously. All snow crab gear must be removed from the water by June 30, two weeks earlier than normally scheduled.
  • Introducing temporary and fixed fisheries management areas and closures where right whales are observed.
  • Lifting the pause on right whale disentanglements following a review of the risks involved and using advice from experts. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is committing C$1 million per year to support marine mammal response groups, which is a significant increase from previous years.
  • Reducing the number of traps in the midshore fishery in Crab Fishing Area 12 compared to 2017.
  • Increasing aerial and at-sea surveillance to detect whales.
  • Implementing licencing requirements at certain fisheries for harvesters to keep better track of rope and buoys, and mandatory reporting of lost gear.
  • Adding a reporting requirement to all commercial licences that all interactions with marine mammals must be reported.
  • Increasing the frequency that snow crab vessels are now required to report their activity on the water through Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) vessel monitoring system to ensure compliance with new measures.

In addition to these investments and measures, the Government of Canada’s Budget 2018 includes C$167.4 million over five years to help protect and recover endangered whale species in Canada, notably the Southern Resident killer whale, the North Atlantic right whale and the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga. This includes funding for science activities to help better understand factors affecting the health of whale populations, as well as actions to help address the threats arising from human activities.

“Our government’s C$1.5 billion investment in the Oceans Protection Plan includes measures that will address threats to marine mammals in Canadian waters and enhance capacity to respond to marine mammal incidents,” said Garneau. “This is yet another example of concrete action we are taking to protect the marine environment. By collaborating with the marine industry, we developed strong measures for 2018 that will help minimize the economic impact to vessel operators.”

Maritime Editorial