PEI

Transport Canada fine-tunes restrictions to protect right whales

Transport Canada has fine-tuned this year's right whale protection measures in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and some of the changes are good news for the P.E.I. cruise ship industry. 

'It just helps to reassure the cruise lines moving forward'

Special zones and speed restrictions have been in place since 2017 in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, when at least 17 right whales died either from ship strikes or entanglement in fishing gear. (Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada)

Transport Canada has fine-tuned this year's right whale protection measures in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and some of the changes are good news for the P.E.I. cruise ship industry. 

One of the most significant applies to dynamic shipping lanes, where temporary closures can be implemented if a right whale is seen. 

Previously, the federal agency required two surveillance flights in a seven-day period with no whale sightings to lift the closure. Now, there will only have to be one.

Corryn Clemence, development manager with the Port of Charlottetown, said the two-flight requirement caused delays for ships because weather would often make it difficult for the surveillance flights to complete their mission.

"They can't see on the water to do proper surveillance, because just a bit of chop on the water makes it really difficult for them to see the whales," she said.

Opening up the sea

Special zones and speed restrictions have been in place since 2017, when at least 17 right whales died either from ship strikes or entanglements in fishing gear.

It's the highest number of deaths reported since hunting of the endangered species was banned in the 1930s.

Last year there were no reported deaths.

'I think it just helps to reassure the cruise lines moving forward and for future planning that things will continue to get better and make it more viable for them to cruise here,' said Clemence. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

The government has reintroduced a mandatory speed restriction for vessels 20 metres or longer to a maximum of 10 knots when travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence, which took effect Sunday.

But Clemence pointed out that a corner of the speed-restriction zone around the Magdalen Islands has been removed. She said that will shave the time cruise ships from P.E.I. heading to the St. Lawrence spend sailing through the area. 

Clemence also noted a dynamic closure zone around Anticosti Island has been widened. 

Ships will be allowed to travel at regular speeds in two shipping lanes north and south of the Island when no whales are in the area. But a 15-day mandatory slowdown to 10 knots will be implemented when a right whale is spotted and will be extended for as long as the whale remains in the lanes.

5 cancel in 2018

Last year, there were five cruise visit cancellations, Clemence said, though she said four were cancelled in 2017 following the announcement of the restrictions on the shipping industry.  

Transport Canada made this year's changes after consultation with the cruise industry and other shipping groups.

Clemence said Transport Canada, DFO, and the Coast Guard have been great at keeping in contact and listening to what the industry has to say.

"I think it just helps to reassure the cruise lines moving forward and for future planning that things will continue to get better and make it more viable for them to cruise here."

The Zaandam, a Holland America ship carrying 1,400 passengers, is the first ship of the season expected to arrive, docking Wednesday, May 1. 

More P.E.I. news

With files from Island Morning and CBC New Brunswick

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