6 fishing areas closing after 2 right whales spotted in Gulf of St. Lawrence

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is closing several fishing areas due to the presence of at least two North Atlantic right whales spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Closures affect 6 fishing areas located east of New Brunswick, Quebec

At least 18 North Atlantic right whales have died since last year. (Center for Coastal Studies/NOAA)

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is temporarily closing several fishing areas in an effort to protect endangered right whales.

In a tweet, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said two North Atlantic right whales were spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence off the coast of New Brunswick.

The closures will take effect May 22 at 4 p.m. ​and all gear is expected to be removed from the water by that time.

The closures affect the following areas, which are located in waters east of New Brunswick and Quebec:

  • GW38.
  • GW39.
  • GW40.
  • GX38.
  • GX39.
  • GX40.
The closure will take effect May 22, at 4 p.m. in the red areas. All gear is expected to be out of the water at that time. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans)

The department said in a news release the closure will remain in effect until further notice.

The closures are for the following fisheries: snow crab, toad crab, rock crab, lobster and whelk. The closures will also apply to winter flounder and Atlantic halibut, except where gear is not left unattended. 

Protecting the right whales

Extra measures to protect the right whales were put in place last year after an unprecedented number of them were found dead. 

At least 18 North Atlantic right whales have been found dead in the last year — 12 found in Canadian waters and six in U.S. waters. 

Necropsies revealed the deaths were related to entanglements or ship strikes. 

This spring, efforts were made to start the crab fishing season early in hopes they would have their gear out of the water before whales started appearing in the area.

But DFO did warn temporary closures could be implemented and would only be lifted once two surveillance flights show the right whales are no longer in the area. 

Also, there are to be fewer traps in the water this year and the traps have to be removed by June 30, two weeks earlier than usual.

A mandatory slow down of ships was also ordered by the department. As of April 28, vessels measuring 20 metres or more in length have to slow down to a maximum of 10 knots when travelling in the gulf. 

A total of 542 ship transits were reported for allegedly breaking the speed limit last year and 14 were fined the minimum amount of $6,000 by the Department of Transportation. 

Lobster fishermen too

Early this year, new rules were put in place for lobster fishermen in the region as well. They include:

  • Reducing the amount of rope floating on the surface of the water. 
  • Reporting all lost fishing gear. 
  • Informing Fisheries and Oceans of all interactions with a marine mammal, including bycatch, collisions and all sightings of entangled marine mammals that occur during fishing expeditions. 
  • Reporting any sighting of live, free-swimming whales to Fisheries and Oceans. 

North Atlantic right whales in Cape Cod, Mass. (Center for Coastal Studies/NOAA)

North Atlantic right whales are considered endangered and the population is estimated to be under 500.

With files from Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon and Gabrielle Fahmy