Significant action taken in 2020 to protect North Atlantic right whales in Canada

From: Transport Canada

The Government of Canada is committed to the protection and recovery of the endangered North Atlantic right whale, while ensuring sustainable fisheries and navigational safety for mariners in Canada’s oceans and waterways. For the past several years, North Atlantic right whales have been increasingly present in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Canada has taken significant action to protect them from entanglements in fishing gear and vessel collisions.

This year, Fisheries and Oceans Canada introduced a new season-long fishing area closure protocol in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, based on where whales were detected. The department also expanded the scope of where temporary and season-long closures were applied. As a result of these enhanced measures, 35,000 square kilometers was closed to fishing for the season-an area equivalent to six times the size of Prince Edward Island. An additional 6,935 square kilometers was closed temporarily during the season. These closures have direct economic and operational impacts on harvesters, and the Government of Canada appreciates their continued cooperation and collaboration in helping protect these endangered whales.

In terms of vessel management measures, covering 72,000 square kilometers, Transport Canada introduced three new measures in addition to the implementation of the mandatory 10-knot speed restriction throughout much of the Gulf of St. Lawrence for vessels over 13 metres, including:

  • two speed-restricted seasonal management areas;
  • a restricted area in and near the Shediac Valley where vessels were required to avoid the area, except for exempted vessels who were required to reduce their speed to eight knots in the area; and
  • a trial, voluntary slowdown of 10 knots in Cabot Strait, at the beginning and end of the season to address whale migration in and out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Surveillance of fishing areas and shipping zones was more robust and varied in 2020 than in previous years. In total, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada aircraft logged over 2,500 flight hours to monitor whales. This aerial surveillance was also complemented by six Viking buoys, three underwater gliders, and a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (or drone), all of which were effectively used to monitor waters under Canadian jurisdiction to trigger fishing area closures and vessel slowdowns.

Experts from Transport Canada and the University of Alaska Fairbanks conducted a five-week drone mission out of Gaspé, Quebec, which provided surveillance of part of the shipping zones south of Anticosti. The acoustic underwater glider, operated in partnership with the University of New Brunswick, was deployed in another part of the shipping zones south of Anticosti. It successfully detected right whales that helped inform decisions to implement slowdowns in the shipping lanes.

As of today’s date, no North Atlantic right whale deaths and no new entanglements were reported in Canadian waters in 2020.

A world-leading marine system requires strong environmental protection for Canada’s coastal habitats, ecosystems and marine species, including whales. The Government of Canada continues to work with partners, scientific experts, industry, environmental groups, and the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine a comprehensive approach, which includes new technologies, to help ensure these marine mammals are protected for years to come.

Quotes

“I am pleased with the results of this year’s North Atlantic right whale measures in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, especially in light of the challenges the global pandemic has presented. I would like to extend my thanks to all mariners for their compliance with our measures this year, and for playing a valuable role in supporting our efforts to protect this vulnerable species. The Government of Canada remains committed to taking all necessary actions to help reduce vessel collision risks to North Atlantic right whales.”

The Honourable Marc Garneau

Minister of Transport

“The 2020 adapted measures have helped keep North Atlantic right whales protected in Canadian waters. Our progress has been possible due to the hard work and cooperation of fish harvesters who have worked closely with us to develop and implement these measures. I would like to thank all our industry partners in Atlantic Canada and Quebec for their continued collaboration in protecting these magnificent creatures.”

The Honourable Bernadette Jordan

Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Quick facts

  • Approximately 124 different whales were sighted in Canadian waters this year, including five new right whale calves.

  • On November 15, 2020, the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau, lifted the mandatory and voluntary speed restrictions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for the 2020 season. At this time of year, the presence of right whales in Canadian waters decreases, and the weather conditions become more challenging for ships to navigate safely. Vessels are still encouraged to slow down and proceed with caution if a whale is detected in the area they are transiting.

  • On November 17 and 18, 2020, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is holding its annual North Atlantic Right Whale Roundtable Meeting with the fishing industry, provinces, marine mammal experts and others, to review the 2020 season. This meeting, along with other discussions, is an important part of the process that enables the department to protect right whales while also supporting sustainable fisheries.

  • Transport Canada has issued four penalties to date for non-compliance with the mandatory speed restriction, between April 28 and November 15, 2020. Vessel owners have 30 days to pay the penalty or to ask the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada to review the facts of the violation or the amount of the penalty.

  • According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there are approximately 366 North Atlantic right whales remaining in the world.

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