P.E.I. fisheries minister, opposition concerned over new fishing rule

P.E.I.’s minister of fisheries and the opposition fisheries critic both expressed concerns Thursday about a last-minute rule change from Fisheries and Oceans Canada affecting the province’s spring lobster fishery.

Measure to protect right whales could temporarily shut down areas to lobster fishing

P.E.I. Minister of Fisheries Robert Henderson, says he found out Tuesday that existing rules for crab fishermen meant to protect North Atlantic right whales will also apply to lobster fishermen. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

P.E.I.'s minister of fisheries and the Opposition fisheries critic both expressed concerns Thursday about a last-minute rule change from Fisheries and Oceans Canada affecting the province's spring lobster fishery.

Minister Robert Henderson said he found out Tuesday that existing rules for crab fishermen meant to protect North Atlantic right whales will also apply to lobster fishermen.

'There's industry implications here if right whales once again get in a situation where [fishers] cause harm to them,' Henderson says. (CBC)

Their new fishing season begins next week.

Of particular concern to both Henderson and Opposition MLA Colin LaVie is a measure that would shut down some areas to fishing for a minimum of 15 days if a whale is sighted.

"The right whale's got to be protected, we understand that," said LaVie, who's also a lobster fisherman. "I just want something in place in case the fishery is shut down. What's this minister got for a Plan B if this takes place?"​

Temporary closures if whale sighted

As Henderson explained to the legislature, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has divided the Gulf into quadrants measuring 13 kilometres by 18 kilometres. One or more of those quadrants would be temporarily closed to fishing if a whale was sighted there.

Henderson said most Island lobster fishing takes place in areas where right whales haven't been known to visit, "but things change. Climate change has had impacts on the normal routes that the right whales take."

In the event of a closure, Henderson said "fishers will have to get their gear out within 48 hours, and that means they're going to have to locate their traps in another location. So that might have some impacts for some fishers, where they might have to travel a little bit farther than they normally expected, or it might not be their traditional lobster ground."

Henderson says most Island lobster fishing takes place in areas where right whales haven't been known to visit, 'but things change. Climate change has had impacts on the normal routes that the right whales take.' (Department of Fisheries and Oceans)

While he said he was concerned about the possibility of a shutdown, he said he would also be concerned about the implications if the industry was responsible for the deaths of any right whales.

He noted the snow crab fishery in the Gulf of St. Lawrence had its certification as an environmentally sustainable fishery suspended following right whale deaths last year.

"There's industry implications here if right whales once again get in a situation where [fishers] cause harm to them ... markets can be impacted so we have to watch this pretty closely and make sure there's no unintended consequences to whales, whatever the particular fishery might be."

Further measures

At least 18 North Atlantic right whales have been found dead since last year — 12 in Canadian waters and six in U.S waters.

Necropsies on seven of the carcasses found last year determined four whales died of blunt force trauma from collisions with ships, and the other three likely died from entanglements in fishing gear.

Necropsies on seven of the carcasses found last year determined four whales died of blunt force trauma from collisions with ships, and the other three likely died from entanglements in fishing gear. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans)

There are only an estimated 450 to 500 of the whales left in the world.

Other measures lobster fishermen will now have to follow include:

  • Reducing the amount of rope floating on the surface of the water.

  • Reporting all lost fishing gear.

  • Informing Fisheries and Oceans of all interactions with a marine mammal, including by catch, collisions and all sightings of entangled marine mammals that occur during fishing expeditions.

  • Reporting any sighting of live, free-swimming whales to Fisheries and Oceans.

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