Although the Government of Canada has introduced several measures to protect the whales in the last two years, deaths continue to occur in Canadian waters.
In response to these occurrences, the Minister of Transport triggered in late June the slowdown in the shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island, that require a vessel slowdown to 10 knots, on an interim precautionary basis.
This speed restriction in the shipping lanes had previously been triggered only when North Atlantic right whales were observed in the lanes.
Already in effect is the speed restriction introduced on 28 April, in a large area in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where vessels 20 metres or longer are restricted to a maximum of 10 knots until 15 November 2019.
With the tragic loss of six North Atlantic right whales this year, our government is implementing urgent new measures and is taking additional actions to further protect this iconic and endangered species. These new measures build on existing measures developed and implemented over the past two years. We are committed to moving forward swiftly to enhance protection for the North Atlantic right whales.
...said Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
Specific additional measures include:
- Increasing surveillance conducted by both Transport Canada’s National Aerial Surveillance Program and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to triple the number of overflights. Since June 29, Transport Canada has increased flights from two a week to now up to two per day, or 14 flights per week weather permitting, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada has recently increased weekly flights from five to 10. This intense pace of surveillance coverage will continue until at least July 15, and the results will be used to determine the plan for increased surveillance for the rest of the season, and any further measures required to protect the whales.
- Expanding the current slowdown zone further east. This includes an expansion of the current slowdown zone where vessels are required to travel at 10 knots throughout the season, and a new slowdown shipping lane where vessels will be required to slow down to 10 knots when a North Atlantic right whale is spotted in the area.
- Expanding the application of the mandatory speed restrictions to any vessel over 13 metres long. Previously, mandatory speed restrictions were only put in place for vessels 20 metres or longer.
- Dividing the mandatory slowdown zone into northern and southern zones so that, in the case of adverse weather conditions, for safety reasons, the mandatory speed limit would be temporarily lifted only in the affected zone (not the entire slowdown zone). In other words, temporarily increasing speed due to adverse weather conditions will only affect a smaller geographic area.
- Adjusting the trigger for fisheries closures so that if one or more right whale is observed anywhere in the Gulf of St Lawrence (including around Anticosti Island, the Cabot Strait, as well as the Straight of Belle-Isle) the area of the sighting will close for 15 days for non-tended fixed-gear fisheries. Major fixed-gear fisheries in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence were closed for the season on June 30, 2019. Although some fisheries remain open, the scale of fixed gear fishing activity will decrease significantly.
- Investing $1.2 million in 2019 as part of a $4.5 million commitment over four years to further enhance the Marine Mammal Response Program, which responds to marine mammals in distress, including disentanglement of North Atlantic right whales. This funding is part of the $167.4 million Whales Initiative in Budget 2018.
- Providing new funding to further advance protection of the North Atlantic right whale. As part of the historic $1.3 billion Nature Legacy Initiative (Budget 2018), the Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk will be providing over $5 million over the next four years towards six projects to help safeguard these whales.
- Funding two additional projects under the Habitat Stewardship Program to mitigate risks and support conservation. In partnership with the Canadian Whale Institute, the Government of Canada is funding a project for monitoring and stewardship toward new and effective risk mitigation for right whales in Atlantic Canada.
- Expanding the slowdown buffer zone. When the interim precautionary slowdown is lifted in the shipping lanes, the buffer around the shipping lane will be doubled from 2.5 to 5 nautical miles. If a right whale is spotted in the buffer zone, the speed restrictions in the shipping lane will be triggered.
The interim precautionary speed limit in the slowdown shipping lanes that was announced and implemented on June 26, will continue until at least July 15, so the information from the intense surveillance period can be assessed before determining if a return to the normal protection measure whereby vessels will be able to transit in designated shipping lanes at normal operating speeds unless a right whale is spotted in one of these lanes (or the buffer areas around them), which will trigger the slowdown for a 15-day period is warranted.
Because the North Atlantic right whales cross international waters, we will be seeking to meet with our United States counterparts to explore the implementation of joint measures to address risks faced by the whales.
This is the third consecutive year that the Government of Canada has implemented measures to help protect North Atlantic right whales:
- On 7 February 2019, Ministers Wilkinson and Garneau announced the Government of Canada’s 2019 plan for protecting North Atlantic right whales;
- In 2018, the Government of Canada put urgent measures in place, which included shutting down the Snow Crab fishery in the area to minimize gear entanglements, increasing surveillance, and implementing a slowdown on large vessels to avoid collisions; and
- 2017 was the first year the Government of Canada put in place specific measures to protect North Atlantic Right Whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.