More changes to snow crab fishery not ruled out

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc says government is still weighing its options when it comes to more changes to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Fisheries minister wants any changes to be fair across all crab fleets

Department of Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc responded to questions Thursday about possible changes to the snow crab fishery to protect endangered whales. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

Government is still weighing its options when it comes to more changes to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales, says federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

Immediate rule changes to the crab fishery were announced Tuesday to help protect the whales. At least 17 died in Canadian and U.S. waters last year. Some died from being hit by ships and others from entanglements with fishing gear. Another right whale turned up dead Thursday in the waters off the coast of Virginia, the first to be reported this year. 

On Thursday, LeBlanc was on P.E.I. and responded to concerns from the P.E.I. Snow Crab Association about the potential for more drastic changes such as limitations on the number of traps allowed in the water. The association said it welcomes changes already in place, such as rules around ropes, but Ottawa has hinted that more changes may be coming.  

LeBlanc said government is still consulting with industry groups on whether reducing the number of snow crab traps allowed in the water makes sense when it comes to protecting endangered right whales. He said some in the crab industry have suggested that a reduction in traps might help reduce contact between fishing gear and whales, but he has also heard other ideas. 

Fishing industry working to protect whales

"Some scientists have said to me the most important thing would be to reduce the number of weeks that the gear is in the water. It's not necessarily the number of traps. If we can start the season earlier by getting Coast Guard icebreakers to open up some ports and get the gear out of the water before the whales come in June for example," LeBlanc said. 

"That probably is much more important than playing around with the number of individual traps."  

The minister said protecting the endangered whales is the most important priority, but said people shouldn't worry about only particular fleets of the crab fishery being impacted. 

Necropsies on some of the whales last year showed entanglement in fishing gear. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

"I won't make a decision that suddenly has an unintended consequence whether it's in Prince Edward Island or the gulf coast of Cape Breton."

He said he wants to make sure the responsibility of implementing the changes is fair across all the different crab fleets. 

And LeBlanc said he's been pleased with the fishing industry working with government to do everything it can to protect the endangered whales. 

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.