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A group of endangered North Atlantic right whales is lingering in the Bay of Fundy.

Right whales in Bay of Fundy may postpone lobster season
Fisheries Officials fear whales will become entangled in fishing gear .

BYCHRIS MORRIS
Canadian Press
November 11/06

    A number of rare and endangered North Atlantic right whales are overstaying their welcome in the Bay of Fundy and could force a delay in the opening of lobster season.
   Jerry Conway of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said Friday that although the main pods left the bay on schedule for southern waters, as many as 50 ofthe slowmoving whales are hanging around.
   Fishermen are scheduled to start setting traps on Tuesday.
   "The concern is that with this number of whales and the opening of the lobster season next week, there is potential for right whales to get entangled in fishing gear," Conway said.
   He said normally, right whales leave the Bay of Fundy by mid-October moving first into the Gulf of Maine before heading farthersouth.
   Officials are discussing with fishermen the possibility of delaying the opening of the lobster season. But Conway said other, less drastic measures are also being considered.
   Conway said the department will put on extra patrols to monitor the movement of the whales.
   He said it may be possible to simply advise fishermen of the location of the whales so they can avoid setting lobster traps in those areas.
   The whales have been spotted frolicking and lolling on the surface along the southern New Brunswick coast, said Conway, adding that they are so close to shore, people have been able to watch them from the shoreline.
   Conway said the whales have plenty of food and clearly feel there's no need to rush south.
   "Why leave when there's lots to eat," he said.
   Fishermen in southern New Brunswick believe government officials are overreacting to the situation.
   "I'm a pilot and I've been flying the Bay of Fundy on a daily basis since 1978 and I can tell you this is not news," said Klaus Sonnenberg of the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association.
   "It's normal to see right whales lingering in the Bay at this time ofthe year"
   Sonnenberg said more than 1,000 fishing families depend on the lucrative Bay of Fundy lobster fishery for income.
   Fishermen also don't believe there are as many as 50 right whales left in the bay, he said, because normally just a couple of family groups linger a bit longer than the others.
   "We've never had any problem."
    Sonnenberg said recently appointed managers at the Fisheries Department appear unaware of the typical situation.
   "There seems to be an overreaction by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans," he said.
   "I think there is a lack of understanding by DFO as to what the normal situation is." Sonnenberg said U.S. fishermen fish lobster year round in the Gulf of Maine, and they have never closed their fishery to guarantee safe passage for the whales.
   The North Atlantic right whale was hunted to near extinction by the late 1800s.
   Although it is now a protected species, marine biologists estimate the total population of North Atlantic right whales at no more than 350, of which about 80 are breeding females.
   The whales frequent the coastal waters from Florida to the Maritimes, areas that are heavily used by the fishing and shippingindustries.
   The whales' low reproductive rate coupled with a declining survival rate, especially for breeding females, appears to have prevented the population from recovering.
   The population is estimated to be declining at a rate of two per cent a year.

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