Ecology Action Centre Applauds Unprecedented Measures for Protection of Endangered North Atlantic Right Whale

The environmental group voices need to extend proactive measures beyond the Gulf of St. Lawrence, concerns about challenges to implementation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, March 28, 2018

[KJIPUKTUK (halifax)] –  Today, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada announced measures aimed at preventing further deaths of the endangered North Atlantic right whale in the Gulf of St Lawrence. These include early opening and closing of the snow crab fishing season, shipping lane closures and mandatory speed limits, and funding for surveillance and whale response teams. Significantly, fixed area closures as well as dynamic closed areas to fishing and shipping when whales are present were also announced. 

With a declining population of only about 450 individuals left and no new calves born this season, researchers in the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium have shown that all breeding females could be dead in about 20 years leaving the population functionally extinct. Deaths from entanglement in fishing gear has been rising since the 1990s, while shipping impact deaths have been declining, and now 83% of the population bears scars from entanglements. 

"These are unprecedented measures and indicate the government of Canada is finally taking action to protect and recover these migratory whales in our waters," says Marine Policy Coordinator, Shannon Arnold, "The fixed and rolling closures in the Gulf fishing area show that the government is willing make serious interventions to improve this situation. We know these will be extremely challenging to implement effectively for the whales and safely for the fishermen, which is why the announced increases in aerial surveillance and real time information dissemination is also a critical." 

Last week, the fleet’s Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-certification was suspended due to the rising number of right whale deaths caused by the fishery. As the only Canadian stakeholder in eco-certification process for these fisheries, the Ecology Action Centre has been working with the Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab fleet to assess their ideas for testing ropeless fishing gear, electronic tagging of traps, and immediate changes to fishing practice, as well as long term strategies.

"The suspension of the fleet's MSC eco-certification was a wake-up call that markets are demanding a higher level of action to avoid entanglement of right whales and that the trade value of this lucrative product is at stake," say Susanna Fuller, Senior Marine Conservation Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre. "The Gulf fleet has been proactive, stepping up to find solutions as they understand that their livelihood is at stake if they do not make some major changes. All the other fleets that pose risk of entanglement along the whale's migratory path and in their critical habitat in the Bay of Fundy and Roseway Basin also need to act immediately to make similar investments and changes before dead whales are spotted in their area as well." 

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For further information, please contact:

Shannon Arnold, Marine Policy Coordinator
902-448-4840(office)
902-329-4668 (cell)
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