New Brunswick

U.S., Canadian agencies blame each other's fishing industries for right whale's death

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the U.S. National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration are blaming each other's fishing industries for the entanglement death of a North Atlantic right whale.

North Atlantic right whale was found dead in February after becoming entangled in fishing gear

Agencies in Canada and the U.S. have announced conflicting conclusions for the origin of the gear responsible for killing Cottontail, a North Atlantic right whale that was found dead in February. (Joey Antonelli)

Canada and the U.S. are blaming each other's fishing industries for the recent death of a North Atlantic right whale.

Following the entanglement death of a right whale named Cottontail, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the U.S. National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) have issued conflicting conclusions for where the fishing gear that killed it came from.

The Canadian department says the gear that killed Cottontail likely came from a U.S. fishery, while the U.S. agency says the gear is consistent with that used for Canadian snow crab fishing.

Originally spotted last October entangled in fishing gear, Cottontail was later found dead off the coast of the Carolinas in February.

It was the latest North Atlantic right whale to die as a result of either fishing gear entanglement or a vessel strike.

The whales migrate annually between waters off the southern U.S. coast and waters around Atlantic Canada and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Their population has declined since 2010 and the animals are listed as an endangered species.

Gear doesn't match new Canadian gear, says DFO

In an email statement on Wednesday, DFO said through its analysis it determined the fishing gear Cottontail got entangled in likely came from a U.S. fishery that operates somewhere between Long Island and South Carolina, "particularly the U.S. Southern Nearshore Trap/Pot fishery, where whale surveillance activities are limited."

The department said it and the NOAA agreed the gear was not from a 2020 Canadian fishery as it was not compatible with Canada's "new, mandatory, gear-making scheme that identifies the country, region, fishery, and, in some cases, the specific fishing area."

DFO also said Cottontail was not spotted in Canadian waters in 2020, despite the Government of Canada's intensive surveillance activities and verification of surveillance photos and videos.

"Over the past few years, Canada's fishing industry has demonstrated incredible adaptability and leadership when it comes to protecting North Atlantic right whales," DFO said.

"Our measures for protecting the North Atlantic right whales are world-class, and this is largely due to the hard work and cooperation of our harvesters and their organizations."

Conclusion contradicts NOAA's

The statement flies in the face of a report released by the NOAA.

In it, the agency said a feature of the fishing gear Cottontail was entangled in was "identical" to gear recovered from another right whale that was entangled in 2017. In that earlier case, the gear was determined to be used for Canadian snow crab fishing.

A crab pot being hauled out of the water in a Newfoundland and Labrador fishery. (Submitted by Fish, Food & Allied Workers)

"The orange woven markers are also sufficient for the 2018 and 2019 Canadian snow crab industry and are of  insufficient length for a U.S. fishery," the NOAA said.

"Given all the similarities between the two cases and not matching any U.S. fishery, we feel the gear is consistent with Canadian snow crab."

The NOAA said it was unable to definitively determine whether the rope removed from Cottontail was being actively fished at the time of the entanglement, or whether it happened in "derelict or illegal gear."

Jennifer Goebel, a spokesperson for the NOAA, said a webinar will be held Thursday night on the findings of its investigation into Cottontail's entanglement.

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