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A U.S. agency has found an 'alarming' spike in the number of right whales entangled in lobster trap ropes.

Researchers team up with N.B. fishermen to protect right whales from lobster trap ropes

ADAM HURAS
TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL
FEB 23/09

   Canadian fisheries officials are looking at changes to lobster fishing methods after a U.S. agency found an "alarming" spike in the number of right whales entangled in lobster trap ropes.
   "We're exploring all options;' Harvey Millar of the federal Fisheries Department said in an interview.
   "We're looking at the best way to mitigate fishing industry interaction with the right whales that stay in the Bay of Fundy area when the fishing season starts."
   "These five entanglements represent more than twice the number usually seen in the southeast during right whale calving season; Jamison Smith of the administration said in a statement.
   "In each case, significant amounts of rope - often more than 500 feet - were in or around the whale's mouth."
   At least one of the entanglements has been preliminarily identified as Canadian lobster gear.
   Millar said researchers are working with fishermen in New Brunswick to look at potential alternatives to the lobster-trapping system, but the extreme differential between high and low tides in the Bay of Fundy hinders efforts to reduce the number of"floating groundlines."
   Tides can range up to a world record high of 17 metres. "In the Bay of Fundy, with its high tides - solutions may not work as well as in other areas,' he said.
   "Our Fisheries and Oceans scientists are doing some testing and are working on a project with some fishermen, testing different lines to see how they work."
   New U.S. rules mandate the use of sinking groundlines that keep ropes slack on the ocean floor. But in waters with a rocky bottom, such as the Bay of Fundy, Millar said that system may not work for Canadian fishermen.
   "We're taking a good look at it and seeing if it will work in the Bay of Fundy, which is a different situation," he said. "The solutions they have may be different than the ones we come up with."
   The department currently has a right whale mitigation plan in place. Fishermen and federal officials report any right whale sightings, and lobster traps are moved to avoid the mammal's path.
   A new shipping lane that keeps traffic clear of the whales is also in place, along with speed limits to help ships avoid hitting the slow-moving leviathans. Regular air flights also search for the whales.
   "There are a number of initiatives on the go, and we are certainly very involved with the researchers in a number of ways," Melanie Sonnenberg, of the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association, said in an interview.
   "What is most important is that we keep the amount of rope in the water down in the presence of the right whale:'
   Sonnenberg said there is a constant dialogue with researchers to build on the safe practices already in place.. Miller said talks with the U. S. are also under way.
   "We work closely with the United States to do anything we can;' Millar said. "We both have the same goal, to protect the right whale.

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