Fisheries officers pleased by lobster industry's compliance with whale rules
In this April 10, 2008 file photo, a North Atlantic right whale breaks the ocean surface off Provincetown, Mass., in Cape Cod Bay. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
By Michael Tutton, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Friday, July 6, 2018 4:02PM ADT
Last Updated Friday, July 6, 2018 8:59PM ADT
Federal officials said Friday they've had good compliance from fishermen in obeying rules aimed at protecting endangered North Atlantic right whales.
During a news conference on Friday, officials with the federal Fisheries and Transport departments praised the lobster fishery for following strict new rules that came into force this year to reduce the threat of fishing gear entanglements and ship strikes.
Darren Goetze, director of conservation and protection for Fisheries, said that even though there are normally "tens of thousands" of traps set in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, up until recently his officers have only had to remove about 30 to 40 traps placed in zones closed due to the presence of whales.
"We have had very good co-operation from fishermen to remove their traps in support of the fisheries closures," Goetze told reporters.
He also said officers are still investigating up to 300 traps in waters off northeastern New Brunswick and the department is taking steps to remove the gear.
However, the Fisheries Department later issued a correction in a news release, stating, "regarding infractions, the 300 traps mentioned during the teleconference were not related specifically to right whales management measures, but rather consist of traps left in the water following the end of fishing seasons, in an area not affected by closures for right whales."
The fisheries officials said during the briefing that closures have been ordered in lobster harvesting areas spanning 4,725 square kilometres in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and 738 square kilometres in the Grand Manan area of the Bay of Fundy.
At least 18 right whales have been found dead overall in Canadian and U.S. waters since 2017, likely due to rope entanglements and ship collisions.
However, fishermen's groups have protested the sweeping closures of fishing zones this season to protect the whales, saying the measures were excessive.
During Friday's briefing, the officials recognized the closures have been difficult for the lobster fishing industry, but added it's been effective from a conservation point of view.
Jean Landry, director of marine mammal science for Fisheries, confirmed there have been no reported deaths of the endangered mammals this season, with the bulk of the lobster and crab fishing season now over.
He also said aerial surveillance has so far detected 111 whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
He said it's expected they could stay in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for at least two more months, adding it's very difficult to predict precisely when they will depart Canadian waters.
Sylvie Lapointe, an assistant deputy minister at DFO, said with the busiest fishing seasons using fixed gear complete, "we don't expect as many closures as we've seen through the spring and early summer."