New Brunswick

DFO closes another fishing area in northern N.B. after right whale sighting

Another fishing area in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has been closed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans after North Atlantic right whales were spotted.

Fishermen have until June 26 to remove gear in snow crab grounds

To date 75 North Atlantic right whales have been spotted by observers who are making daily flights over 460,000 square kilometres of ocean as part of the marine mammal surveillance program. (Center for Coastal Studies)

Another fishing area in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has been closed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans after North Atlantic right whales were spotted. 

The latest closure in extends the no-fish zone farther east, well into the middle of the Gulf.

Fishermen have until Tuesday at 3 p.m. to remove any fishing gear in the area.

Maritime Fishermen's Union president Carl Allen says this closure of one smaller area is not overly concerning as much of the quota has already been reached. 

"When you look at the location and where it is, it's out on the snow crab grounds and it's not of a huge concern at this point of the game because I think, at this point, we're over 90 per cent of the quota is caught." 

Some individual fishermen have already filled their quota and are finished, he said. 

"It's not of huge consequence considering the location of where it's at and the timing of it."

But Allen said fishermen must still cope with the "complex protocols" that accompany every closure order. 

"Every time we get an email with notice to harvesters, alerting us to another closure, it's like those few seconds that it takes to load the map up to see where the closure is, are like the longest few seconds in your life some days." 

This is the seventh closure of a fishing area over the last month in the waters off northern New Brunswick that has forced crab fishermen and lobster fishermen to move their fishing gear to other areas. 

A fishing area was also closed June 18 in the Bay of Fundy after a right whale was spotted there. 

All  the closures still remain in effect until further notice. 

18 right whale deaths

Since January 2017, there have been 18 deaths of North Atlantic right whales in U.S. and Canadian waters — 12 off the Canadian coast and six off the U.S. 

To date, there are only 100 breeding females remaining in a population of about 450 North Atlantic right whales.

Up to 75 right whales have been spotted in the southern part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence so far this year, officials said.

The fishery closure is just one of the measures taken by the department to try to save North Atlantic right whales. New rules also require ships to slow down in some areas.

Allen said he feels the general consensus is the right whales being in the area is more of a trend than an anomaly. 

​"I think this is something we will be dealing with year in and year out. In the future we're going to have to come up with some more thought out plans." 

This includes not closing the static closure zone too early so the area outside it doesn't get overfished or exploited year after year. 

"That static closure is worth 25 per cent of the tack last year. That's a huge portion of the crab that comes out of the water and if we can't have access to that you run that risk of you might actually collapse that resource." 

Allen said MFU will have to sit with DFO again to discuss how it can be done in 2019 so the objectives of not entangling right whales but have a fishery that is better managed.

With files from Blair Sanderson