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Canada Announces New Whale Protections in Gulf of St. Lawrence

On March 28, Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Dominic LeBlanc announced new management measures for the spring Area 12 Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab fishing season to protect right whales. A Canadian Coast Guard ice breaker will open some of the northern New Brunswick fishing harbors to allow for an earlier start to the fishing season. There will be fewer traps permitted in the water and all traps will have to be removed from the water by June 30, about two weeks earlier than usual. Fishermen have increased reporting required using a vessel monitoring system to ensure compliance with new regulations. LeBlanc also announced both fixed and temporary closures in areas where right whale are spotted. Temporary closures will be implemented where right whales are observed and will be lifted once two surveillance flights show the whales are no longer in the area. The federal government is dramatically increasing its aerial and at-sea surveillance to detect right whales. The minister also lifted the suspension of whale disentanglement rescue efforts. DFO is committing $1million per year to support marine mammal response groups. In late January, LeBlanc had announced that there would be a limit on rope used in the Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab fishery. Rope restrictions include limiting the rope floating at the surface connecting the primary buoy to traps and requiring the primary line to the trap to sink. Metal weights may be added to the line. The surface system connecting the primary buoy to the secondary buoy is limited to a maximum of two fathom of rope. Fishermen must mark their rope (intervals not specified) different colors by crab fishing area; buoys must be marked sequentially. All lost gear must be reported by last known GPS position. DFO plans aggressive enforcement including dockside inspections. Transportation minister Marc Garneau announced vessel speed restrictions for vessels measuring 20 meters or more in length of a maximum of 10 knots when travelling in the western part of the Gulf beginning on April 28. The mandatory speed limit will remain in place until November 15 and the zone may be changed as needed based on aerial surveillance. Vessels will be allowed to travel at normal speeds in parts of two shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island when no whales are present, but a mandatory 15-day slowdown to 10 knots will be implemented within any section where a North Atlantic right whale is spotted. Fines for violating the speed limits will be the same as last year — from $6,000 for a first offence up to $25,000.

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