After a deadly year 2017, Fisheries and Oceans is now convinced of the effectiveness of the measures imposed in 2018 to protect Right Whales. No specimens of the endangered species have perished in Canadian waters in 2018, and protective measures will continue to apply in 2019.
The year 2018 went without fail, or almost, in the protection of the right whale in the waters of the North Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
A year without a death illustrates the effectiveness of the measures put in place, believes the Director of Fisheries Management at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Adam Burns.
“In 2018, there were as many right whales in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence as in 2017″, says Adam Burns.”We had all these incidents [in 2017], and we continued the fisheries in those areas.”
The death toll was 18 in 2017, including 12 in Canadian waters.
The majority of whales had become entangled in fishing gear or had been struck by ships.
Adam Burns recalls that on April 28, 2018, DFO closed a fairly large area of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence with the use of fishing cages.
About 90% of the whales observed in 2017 were in this area.
Fishermen, big losers
DFO systematically shut down fishing areas where whales ventured in 2018, forcing fishermen to remove their gear from the waters. Closures lasting two weeks have sometimes been extended.
But the measures to protect the right whale were not unanimous. Demonstrations took place in Caraquet this summer.
The Maritime Fishermen’s Union President, Carl Allen, argued during the demonstrations that no whales had been observed within closed lobster fishing areas.
Many fishermen say the measures prevent them from making a living.
Adam Burns acknowledges that the measures have had a significant economic impact, but adds that the department has seen tremendous cooperation from the fishing industry.
“They do not want anyone to see their equipment harming right whales”, says Burns.
Fisheries and Oceans is now revising the protection measures to see if there are other ways to achieve the same efficiency by reducing the impact on fishermen , says Burns.
DFO has undertaken consultations with the fishing industry and First Nations on this subject .
Sign of hope
An endangered calf bird was sighted in southern US waters at the end of 2018.
“We did not see it last winter, so that’s great news for the people”, said Burns.
Although no specimens perished in Canadian waters, three right whales died off the US coast in 2018.