All right whales survived visit to Canadian waters last year

No North Atlantic right whales died in Canadian waters in 2018, so protective measures will continue, a Fisheries spokesperson says.

After so many right whale deaths in 2017, DFO encouraged by 2018

The federal Fisheries Department says the lack of deaths in Canadian waters last year means the protection measure are working. (Centre for Coastal Studies/NOAA)

No North Atlantic right whales died in Canadian waters in 2018, so protective measures will continue, a Fisheries spokesperson says.

The year free of deaths means the protective measures implemented last year are working, said Adam Burns, director general for fisheries resource management with Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"In 2018 there were at least as many North Atlantic right whales in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence as there were in 2017, when we had all of those incidents, and we continued to have fishing activity in those same areas," Burns said.

In 2017, the death toll came to 18. Twelve of the whales died in Canadian waters.

In most cases, the whales became entangled in fishing gear or were struck by ships. 

Burns said that on April 28, 2018, the Fisheries Department closed a "fairly large area of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence to all trap-based fishing."

Ninety per cent of the whales sighted in 2017 were in that area.

Adam Burns, the director of fisheries resource management with the department, said compliance with right whale protection measures was high. (CBC)

When the whales were observed elsewhere in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the department closed areas around the  sightings for two weeks and required fishermen to remove their gear.

These closures were unpopular with lobster fishermen in New Brunswick, leading to protests in Caraquet this summer.

Maritime Fishermen's Union president Carl Allen said during the protests that some of the areas closed had never seen a right whale entangled in lobster gear.

Carl Allen, president of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, said during protests in Caraquet last summer that some of the areas closed by Fisheries had never seen a right whale entangled in lobster gear. (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC)

Many harvesters argued the protection measures hurt their ability to make a living.

Burns acknowledged the measures had a negative economic impact on some harvesters but said overall the department  saw "tremendous co-operation from the fishing industry." 

"They don't want to have their gear entangling North Atlantic right whales any more than anyone else does."

The department is now reviewing the protection measures to see "if there's ways we can have these measures just as effective but with a little less impact on the harvesters themselves," Burns said.

The Fisheries Department has also undertaken consultations with the fishing industry and First Nations, but last year's regulations will continue to be enforced.

One North Atlantic right whale calf was spotted in southern U.S. waters at the end of 2018.

"We didn't see any observed last winter, so that's really good news for the population," Burns said.

Although no North Atlantic right whales died in Canadian waters last year, there were reports of three deaths off the U.S. coast. 

With files from Rachel Cave, Information Morning Saint John