P.E.I. fishermen want answers about new restrictions to protect whales

The P.E.I. Fishermen's Association has some questions for the federal government about this year's restrictions to protect endangered right whales.

'We don't know if fishing is allowed in there or not'

Transport Canada has called the Shediac Valley 'a particularly important area' for endangered North Altantic right whales. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans)

The P.E.I. Fishermen's Association has some questions for the federal government about this year's restrictions to protect endangered right whales.

Among the new rules, Transport Canada has identified a sensitive area off western P.E.I. that it's calling the Shediac Valley. Boats won't be allowed in unless absolutely necessary, but exact boundaries have not yet been set.

"The coordinates won't actually be set until after the whales arrive," said Melanie Giffin, marine biologist for the association.

"So we don't actually know the location of that box until the whales are here and aggregating. So there's still some confusion around that."

The association also says it's not clear if the exclusion of non-essential boats in the Shediac Valley will apply to licensed fishermen.

"We don't know if fishing is going to be allowed in there or not. So these kind of things need to be figured out," said Giffin.

Marked fishing gear

Fishermen continue to do their part to keep whales safe, Giffin said. 

The P.E.I. Fishermen's Association is seeking clarity on fishing rules and boundaries of the Shediac Valley. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans)

For instance, this year they will be using new colour-coded lines and ropes, so the origin of any entanglements can be traced. Crews have already begun weaving the mandatory coloured strands into their lines, in preparation for the spring season.

Some lobster crews will also be testing special ropes this year that are designed to break if a whale gets tangled. The polymer line has a weak link woven into it, that whales can break without getting injured. The innovation was pioneered by lobster fishermen in the U.S.

"We need to trial it on different kinds of bottom and see if it works for us here," said Giffin.

The weak link could be phased in as a mandatory piece of gear in the 2022 season.

'Our lobster fishing is actually pretty safe,' says Melanie Giffin with the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association, noting that right whales typically swim in waters deeper than P.E.I.'s lobster fishing grounds. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

The association has also sent out whale identification sheets to help fishermen report any sightings of North Atlantic right whales.

No sightings have been reported so far in P.E.I. lobster fishing zones, according to Giffin — right whales typically stick to deeper waters, she said.

"Our lobster fishing is actually pretty safe," said Giffin.

More from CBC P.E.I.



Brian Higgins


Brian Higgins joined CBC Prince Edward Island in 2002, following work in broadcasting, newspaper and magazine writing in central Canada. He follows law courts and justice issues on P.E.I., among other assignments.


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