Fin this handout photo, officials
from several U.S. wildlife agencies help disentangle a young right whale from a
web of fishing lines on Dec. 30, 2010. PHOTO: FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE
would provide better protection for right whales: scientist
Experts say fishermen can minimize the harm to sea creatures by employing safer
A Canadian expert
on right whales is calling on officials north of the border to move on more
stringent protective measures to safeguard the migration of one of the world's
most endangered marine mammals.
Moira Brown, who is also
a senior scientist with the New England Aquarium in Boston, says there are
clear differences in the regulations governing fishermen on either side of the
Her words come as a young North Atlantic right
whale remains under close observation off the Florida coast following a
dramatic rescue effort in which U.S. wildlife officials disentangled the
creature from a potentially deadly web of fishing lines.
The lines potentially shackled the whale for thousands of
kilometres from its summer feeding grounds in Atlantic Canada during its trek
to southern waters.
"The whales don't know the borders;'
"In Canada, we really need to start
assembling a table that includes all of the known entanglements and start
trying to address the problem from our side.
need to start getting everyone in the room and start looking at the problem
from the Canadian perspective."
Brown said the difference
is that pot fishermen in the United States must use specific catch methods that
limit the potential of snagging whales.
been required to change over their groundlines from floating groundlines to
sinking groundlines and the whole idea was to reduce the profile of the line in
the water between the traps to get rope out of the water column;' Brown said.
"That's all in United States waters."
Lobster fishermen on the eastern coast of Canada are
altering the way they set lobster and other traps in a bid to cut down on the
number of entanglements, but the Canadian initiative is not mandatory.
Hundreds of harvesters have instead been asked to set
their groundlines on the ocean floor to limit floating ropes and protect the
whales against one of their main killers.
"But we don't
know what the level of compliance is with those voluntary measures at this
point," Brown said. The right whale in question in Florida waters is still
towing a buoy with telemetry so that it can be tracked using satellite, giving
rescuers regular positions for the whale, according to Brown.
"What will happen now is that the line that is taken off
the whale will go to a gear engineer that is based in Rhode Island who works
for the National Marine Fisheries Service and he will conduct a number of
tests," she said.
The gear engineer will attempt to
distinguish where the line came from, its breaking strength and whether it was
floating or sinking groundline.
The right whale
population has dwindled to roughly only 400 since they were hunted to near
extinction in the 1700s.
To minimize potential negative
encounters between right whales and fishing gear, the lobster season on the New
Brunswick side of the lower Bay of Fundy, where the majority of right whales
are typically found, opens in midNovember.
beneficial as the majority of right whales have left the Bay of Fundy by this
time," said Andrew Newbould, adviser for the Maritime region aquaculture
management division of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Newbould said to reduce the risk of right whale
entanglements in the Bay of Fundy when the lobster season is open, the federal
department and the local fishing industry have worked together to develop and
implement a mitigation strategy to avoid interactions between right whales and
The strategy includes regular aerial
surveys over areas of known right whale concentrations in advance of and during
the lobster fishing season and the establishment of a "right whale hotline" to
relay information on right whale locations and to allow fish harvesters to
Lobster fishermen in the Bay of Fundy
also now tend to string multiple traps together to reduce the number of
vertical lines in the water, according to the Department of Fisheries and
"Most of the efforts to date in Canadian waters
have focused on right whales, but the trickle-down theory works here," Newbould
"Disentanglement teams will try and help species
other than right whales, and fewer vertical lines in the water will potentially
benefit all whales as well."
Brown said a dialogue needs
to continue to further develop safeguards.
"In the United
States, we are still seeing whales get entangled, it's not the 100 per cent
solution, but the idea is to try to reduce the risk," she said.