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Fishermen allowed to fish close to shore in Gulf of St. Lawrence after right whale sighting


Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has updated its prohibition on a fishing area off the coast of New Brunswick’s Acadian Peninsula due to the presence of an endangered North Atlantic right whale, allowing fishermen to work close to the shore.

DFO says it instituted a 15-day temporary fishing area closure in Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 23 C on May 17 after a right whale was spotted in shallow waters east of Miscou Island.

After a meeting on Thursday between the federal fisheries minister and industry representatives, the order was updated to allow fishermen to fish close to the shore.

"We had a productive discussion about how to address the pressing threat facing the endangered North Atlantic Right Whales, while accounting for the very real impacts on our lobster harvesters and the communities in which they reside," reads a Thursday evening statement from federal fisheries minister Diane Lebouthillier.

"I have asked DFO to convene a meeting of the Technical Advisory Committee on North Atlantic Right Whales which includes representatives of the industry and whale experts to review the existing protocol. It is crucial that we achieve the right balance in protecting these whales and while minimizing the impact on the fishing industry wherever possible."

Fishermen affected by closures

The Maritime Fishermen’s Union previously held at meeting Wednesday night in Sainte-Marie-Saint-Raphaël to discuss the initial full closure with affected fishermen. 

Martin Mallet, executive director of the union, said this situation should never have happened.

"We heard the news about the whale sighting on Friday afternoon, but when we looked at the actual water depth where the whale was observed, it was over the 10 fathom limit so it should have never closed the inshore area within that so the fishermen would have never had to take their traps out of the water from the get go, so this could have been solved if Ottawa would have listened to us," he said. "The problem in is Ottawa is they were looking at some other version of the maps that we were looking and on these maps the whale was at 9.5 fathom.

"I mean, we’re tripping on details here. At the end of the day we had a potential crisis where fishermen would have lost, and their communities, over $40-60 million within two weeks of lost fishing days, right?”

Russell Vibert, a lobster fisherman, said he was happy to find out fishing near the shore would be allowed.

"We only have two months to fish, so 15 days out of those two months is a long time, so it’s a big loss, a big hit for us," he said. "Today the minister, like I said, sent DFO out on the water to confirm that the whale was actually outside of that 10 fathom line and when that was confirmed, she is going to allow us to fish now within the 10 fathom.”

Austin Vibert, a former fisherman with Ghost Gear Disappear Inc., said ropeless gear could help reduce the risk for whales.

“Nobody wants to go out and harm a whale and they all want to go out and fish so the only way to do both is adapt a new solution," he said.

With files from CTV's Sarah Plowman.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page. Top Stories

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