A right whale surfaces showing its mouth and
nostrils. PHOTO: CINDY WILSON/TELEORAPH-JOURNAL
Plan on way to
Waters Mufti-prong approach to focus on
prevention of entangements, response efforts
government is expected to release an action plan before the end of the year
that will help reduce the number of North Atlantic right whales that get
entangled in fishing gear.
One of the world's most
endangered whales, the species spends the warmer months - usually from June to
November -in the Bay of Fundy's plentiful fishing
Cathy Merriman, a species at risk biologist with
DFO, said the department is working with fishing associations to develop the
action plan to mitigate the risk.
"The focus is
prevention - let's focus on preventing them from getting entangled in the first
place," she said.
Part of the action plan will also deal
with implementing effective ways to respond to entanglements after they've
"We also need that emergency response," said
Though the number of right whales have risen
considerably over the last decade, there are still only about 500 of them left.
And unlike the United States, Canada doesn't have
specific legislation that deals with fishing in areas where there are right
"Instead of legislation, were looking at
collaborative and voluntary procedures, said Merriman.
The biologist said the action plan will contain a
multi-prong approach to mitigating the risk of gear to the
"A one-rule-fits-all doesn't actually fit," she
Merriman said the current legislation in the United
States is a "blanket approach" that focuses on ground lines and the lobster
We haven't gone that way in Canada, partly
because the different fisheries that may have interactions with right whales
are quite varied so there isn't likely going to be one single rule; she said.
Scott kraus, vice-president of research for the New
England Aquarium, says there's a lot of work left to be done to get the whale
off the endangered list and the entanglement problem is a complicated one.
"We're just beginning to get a handle on things that
might work, but nobody really knows," he said in an earlier interview.
Kraus, who first discovered that right whales live in the
Bay of Fundy 30 years ago, estimates that at least a couple of right whales die
each year from entanglements.
Part of the problem is that
there isn't a clear understanding of how the whales are getting messed up in
The Bay of Fundy, in particular, is a
challenging environment because of the tides and the depths of the
"Lobster gear isn't going to act the same as it
would in more shallow water, less tidal water, off the coast of Maine or even
elsewhere in the Maritimes, said Merri man. "A solution that works in one
place, may not work in other places."
In lobster fishing,
there's at least one vertical line that goes from a buoy at the surface to the
gear at the bottom, but typically there are two with the lobster pots in
between them, she explained.
The World Wildlife Fund and
the Canadian Wildlife Federation have had success with, some fishing
associations in Nova Scotia to develop voluntary standard operating procedures
around the placement of fishing gear that reduce death and injury to
"The fishermen are the experts on this and some
work has been done to develop these voluntary procedures to set the gear in
ways to minimize how much is going to float up above the bottom of the ocean,"
The DFO action plan will take those
programs and expand them into other areas for other fisheries, she said.
While there's little overlap in the lobster season, which
runs from November to May, with right whales, which typically arrive after May,
there are times when the animals are in the bay during the fishery.
Merriman said there are safeguards in place to help
DFO does aerial surveys at the beginning of
the fishing season to determine whether there are whales in the area. There's
also a program set up in partnership with area lobster fishery associations and
the federal department.
"They won't set their gear (when a right whale is
reported) and they inform everyone else when there's a whale seen," said