New rules sprung on lobster fishermen to protect endangered whales

Parts of the water off the coast of New Brunswick will be closed to lobster fishing this season to protect the North Atlantic right whale, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has told lobster fishermen.

Season won't open at all in one area off northern coast of New Brunswick

New measures have been announced by the federal government to protect the endangered whales from potential entanglement in lobster fishing gear. (CBC)

Parts of the water off the coast of New Brunswick will be closed to lobster fishing this season to protect the North Atlantic right whale, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has told lobster fishermen.

It's one of several new measures that will affect the lobster industry, after a historically deadly summer for the endangered whales.

Until now, the focus was mostly on snow crab fishing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, after necropsies revealed at least three whales likely died as a result of entanglement in fishing gear.

​But Tuesday's notice reveals many of the same measures announced in late March for the crab fishery will be applied to lobster fishing in the gulf as well.

Lobster fishermen reacted with surprise and disappointment and suggested the new rules were mostly about the federal department's public image.

Martin Mallet, executive director of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, said the lobster industry only found out two weeks ago that Fisheries and Oceans was contemplating restrictions on them to protect whales.

He said lobster fishermen tried to suggest other solutions but the federal department didn't listen.

2 kinds of closures

Although lobster fishermen usually stay closer to shore than crab fishermen do, Ottawa believes they could venture into zones where the right whales will be found.

A "static closure" will be implemented off the northern coast of New Brunswick from April 28 — two days before the season begins and for its duration, until June 30.

The closure area is one where where 90 per cent of the right whales were observed last summer.

The yellow zone in the Gulf of St. Lawrence represents the one that will be off access all season to lobster fishermen. (DFO)

Fisheries and Oceans will also enforce what it calls "dynamic closures" in other areas, meaning wherever a right whale will be spotted this season, the area around it will be closed for a minimum of 15 days.

Those closures would be lifted once two consecutive aerial surveillance missions confirm the whales have moved on.

Other measures lobster fishermen will now have to follow 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.
The 2017 summer was a historically deadly one for the endangered North Atlantic right whale. (Stephan Savoia/Canadian Press)

These measures will affect all lobster fishermen in the gulf region in fishing zones 23, 24, 25 and 26.

Mallet, of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, said its members are experts in fishing, and the union has scientific experts as well, yet Ottawa didn't seek their collaboration in coming up with a plan.

"It is mainly the process that is deplored," he said. "Our members do not feel listened to and feel excluded, as if it is taken for granted that these measures do not concern them."

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

Necropsies on seven of the carcasses found last year determined four whales died of blunt force trauma from collisions with ships, and the other three likely died from entanglements in fishing gear.

About the Author

Gabrielle Fahmy

Reporter

Gabrielle Fahmy is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been a journalist with the CBC since 2014.