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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 CONSERVATION COMMISSION.

Stricter rules would provide better protection for right whales: scientist
Research Experts say fishermen can minimize the harm to sea creatures by employing safer fishing methods

ADAM HURAS
TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL
JAN 06/11

    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 border.
   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;' Brown said.
   "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.
   "We really 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.
   "Fishermen have 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.
   "This is 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 lobster gear.
   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 report sightings.
   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 Oceans.
   "Most of the efforts to date in Canadian waters have focused on right whales, but the trickle-down theory works here," Newbould said.
   "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.

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