New Brunswick

Canada-U.S. tensions expected to be big topic at right whale meeting Thursday

Dozens of people from the fishing industry and conservation groups are in Moncton to meet with Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials about methods to protect North Atlantic right whales.

After 10 whale deaths this summer, many groups south of the border have called on Ottawa to do more

Snake Eyes was found dead off Long Island, N.Y., in September. His death is believed the result of an entanglement in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this summer. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Canadian-U.S. trade relations and tensions around fishing regulations are expected to be top of mind Thursday at a discussion about North Atlantic right whales.

Dozens of people from the fishing industry and conservation groups are in Moncton to meet with officials from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

At the centre of tensions is whether Canada is doing enough to protect the endangered marine mammal.

It was another devastating summer for the species — 10 died, nine in Canadian waters.

The latest to be found dead was a whale named Snake Eyes, whose body was discovered floating off Long Island.

The whale's death, believed to be the result of an entanglement the animal suffered in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in late July or early August, only exacerbated tensions between the two countries.

Hanging over Thursday's meeting is the threat that in 2021, the U.S. could ban Canadian seafood imports if officials here don't put in place equivalent protection for marine mammals.

New, stronger measures expected

The meeting will be a chance for stakeholders to reflect on the federal government's 2019 right whale protection measures.

For the second year in a row, fishing closures and speed restrictions were put in place.

The fishermen find themselves in a delicate position. The measures affect their catch, but they're in jeopardy of losing an important trading partner if efforts don't satisfy U.S. officials .

And right now, all seems to point to stricter measures in the year ahead.

After six whale deaths had been reported by Canada by early July, NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Chris Oliver requested an emergency meeting with Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada, urging immediate action. 

Officers retrieved lost crab fishing gear from the ocean last summer. (Submitted by the Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

Afterwards, Oliver hinted new, stronger measures on both sides of the border were on the way.

"We believe that only broad-based measures will be effective and resilient to changes in whale distribution, ecological conditions, fishing effort, and shipping patterns over time," Oliver said in an Aug. 12 statement.

Scientists believe increased water temperature is changing the whales' migration patterns, which has been part of the challenge in protecting them this year.

The U.S. official had also expressed plans for more accountability from fishermen.

"Over the next few months, we will coordinate with Canadian officials on future gear marking schemes in order to improve the ability to identify the source of gear seen on or retrieved from large whales along the eastern seaboard," Oliver said.

Talks about ropeless fishing gear, seen as a compromise between needs of industry and marine protection, are also on Thursday's agenda, but the equipment is still in the early testing stages.

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