Right whales visit Maine coast
Two North Atlantic right whales were seen briefly off the southern Maine coast in mid-May. People at Wells Beach and Long Sands Beach in York reported seeing a right whale swimming along the surface. The New England Aquarium identified one whale as No. 1409, an adult male born in 1984; the other is thought to be a juvenile whale. Right whale No. 1409 had been spotted in March feeding in Cape Cod Bay near Provincetown, Massachusetts. He had turned up in southern Maine before, and is a regular off Jeffreys Ledge.
Senators call for greater Canadian protections
A group of New England senators is calling on the U.S. government to speed up an analysis of Canada’s efforts to protect the endangered North American right whale, and to consider trade action if Canada’s rules do not prove as strong as in the U.S. The senators say U.S. fishermen have made big sacrifices to reduce impacts on the whales. Now they’re calling on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to investigate whether fishermen in Canada are being held to similar standards. If not, they say, then NOAA should consider barring the import of Canadian seafood from the relevant fisheries. The letter to NOAA was co-signed by senators from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.
Canadian right whale protections in place
Canada’s DFO has implemented whale protection measures in the Gulf of St Lawrence snow crab and lobster fisheries but not for other snow crab or lobster fishing areas in Canada.
The Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab protection measures affect areas 12, 12E, 12F, 18, 25, 26, and 19. The quota has been reduced by 44% to 24,613 metric tons in 2018. The vessels with the largest quota allocations will reduce traps from 174 to 150; harvesters with smaller quota allocations will remain at 75 traps. The season was scheduled to start early, though ice delayed the start; the season will end two weeks earlier, by June 30. Snow crab vessels are required to use VMS, report lost gear, whale sightings and any interactions with whales. Gear modifications for the fleet include no floating line at the surface, maximum of 2 fathoms of rope connecting the primary to secondary buoy, sequentially numbering primary buoys, and gear marking. Four colors have been assigned among the seven snow crab fishing areas — orange, yellow, blue and green. Buoy lines must be marked to contrast rope using colored twine or tap with a 6” mark every 15 fathoms. Speed restrictions for vessels larger than 20 meters remain in place and there is a mandatory slow down to 10 knots in areas where right whales are spotted. Enforcement will take place through dockside inspections.
DFO has also implemented some measures for the Gulf of St Lawrence lobster fisheries, including LFAs 23, 24, 26A and 26B (season April 30 to June 30), LFAs 26A-1 and 26B (season May 7 to July 7) and LFA 25 (season August 9 to October 10). Trap limits for these lobster fisheries range from 250-300 traps. Gear modifications to protect right whales include no floating line at the surface, no floating groundline at the surface, maximum of 2 fathoms of rope connecting the primary to secondary buoy, and reporting requirements including reporting of all lost gear, marine mammal sightings and interactions.
Both the Gulf of St. Lawrence snow crab and lobster fisheries are subject to both a static closure effective April 28 where 90% of right whales were observed during the summer of 2017 (yellow box above) and dynamic closure if surveillance flights spot a right whale in a foraging area (orange areas above).