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Canada Introduces Measures to Protect the North Atlantic Right Whale

Updated: May 31, 2020

The Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, and the Minister of Transport, have announced collaborative measures that will be implemented to protect the right whale population without compromising the fishing industry (1). The world’s right whale population currently sits at around 400, and the Government of Canada has committed to taking steps to protect this endangered species through policy implementations and further research on how to help the species (1).

The Government of Canada has already taken action towards protecting the right whale population, including committing $167.4 million to a Whales Initiative that protects not just the right whale, but also the Southern Resident killer whale and the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga, and the commitment is reflected in the 2018 federal budget (1). Moreover, in 2017, Canada implemented speed restrictions in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence (2). The government’s actions seem to be working as there were no right whale deaths documented in Canadian waters in 2018 (2).

The newly proposed measures would take place from April to November 2020 and focus on preventing the main threats to right whales within the waters surrounding Atlantic Canada and Quebec, including colliding with ships and getting caught in fishing equipment (2). Some of the new rules include a restricted area east of New Brunswick which ships 13 metres or longer must avoid or, if unable, reduce their speed when travelling through (3). The Government of Canada is also working closely with the fishing industry to work towards better fishing equipment for 2021, including limiting the amount of floating rope (4).

The Government of Canada is using more observation-based technology as well, including hydrophones (underwater microphones) (4) that will be used to confirm whale presence in areas facing temporary closure due to their popularity by whale populations, including the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of the St. Lawrence (3). In order to keep track of the animals present in each region of concern, the Government of Canada has implemented a reporting system of any interactions ships have with whales in a given area (4). If a whale is spotted, the Government has also implemented timing restrictions in which certain sections of water will be closed for at least fifteen days, and potentially longer if the whale persists in the area (3).

Overall, the Government of Canada is taking action to protect the North Atlantic right whale population without compromising the fishing industry. The federal government’s work to include more observation-based measures will move through the rest of this year, and we will be able to observe the impacts to both the right whale population and the fishing industry once the 2020 measures are implemented.


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