PEI

New measures to protect right whales leads to confusion according to PEIFA

New regulations put in place by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to protect North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has meant a confusing start to the season for P.E.I. fishermen, according to the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association.

'It's a very delicate balance between protecting species and maintaining a fishery'

P.E.I. fishermen have had to follow several new regulations put in place by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans this season in order to protect North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. (John Carrington/Savannah Morning News/AP)

New regulations put in place by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to protect North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has meant a confusing start to the season for P.E.I. fishermen, according to the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association (PEIFA).

Recent whale sightings in Canadian waters have already prompted the closure of 15 fishery areas by DFO.

"We're ... taking it day by day. As whales show up and fisheries close, we deal with it as need be," said Melanie Giffin, marine biologist and program planner with the PEIFA.

She said as of right now, no closures are affecting P.E.I.'s lobster industry, but that local fishermen are watching closely. 

"There are concerns obviously," said Giffin. "If the fishery does have to close, and it is in an area that affects P.E.I., then the fishers don't have to take their gear out permanently, they just have to move them out of that area and can fish somewhere else." 

New regulations, more paperwork

Giffin said the season hasn't been without its challenges, with new regulations from the DFO requiring any commercial fishing fleets to report interactions with marine mammals. She said that's lead to more paperwork and more confusion.

"It's just a matter of separating out what information needs to go where basically, and that's where the confusion comes from." 

Marine biologist with PEIFA Melanie Giffin says it's been difficult to predict right whale movement because there's limited information on their movement patterns in the gulf. The closure zones put in place are based on one year of data. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Fishermen need to distinguish sightings like an entangled whale, a species at risk, or a free whale, and make individual reports to different departments.

Giffin said the association has had to create fact sheets for fishermen to help them navigate these new measures. 

Multi-species working groups 

They've also introduced a new, multi-species, North Atlantic right whale working group, an initiative that is working to educate the different Island fishing groups on the necessary changes in the area.

"It's a very delicate balance between protecting species and maintaining a fishery, so that goes for all fisheries, not just lobster and snow crab," Giffin said. 

The working group is also collecting information from their U.S. counterparts to see what mitigation measures fisheries have found successful, and will potentially be running those measures in P.E.I. waters on a trial basis.

Limited information available

As proactive as the PEIFA is trying to be in helping protect the endangered whales, Giffin said the industry can only look so far ahead and will have to wait and see where the whales travel this year.

Fishermen have also been given fact sheets made by DFO to help follow the new measures put in place by DFO. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

"At this point, the closure zones that are put in place are based on one year of historical data and really that's all we have," she said.

"Having very few years with the whales in the area at any kind of abundance is actually working against us in understanding their movement patterns."

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