Canadians Implement New Crab Fishing Rules to Protect Endangered Right Whales

HYANNIS – Canadian Fisheries officials recently announced a handful of new rules for snow crab fishermen to protect critical endangered North Atlantic right whales from entanglement.

The regulations include reducing the amount of rope allowed to float on the surface.

The new rules are a result of at least 17 right whale deaths last year, many of which were in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Right whales are the most endangered marine mammal in the world with an estimated population around 450.

Charles “Stormy” Mayo with the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown gave kudos to the Canadian officials for being proactive this year.

“It’s a shame we didn’t know where the whales were last year so they could have taken action earlier,” Mayo said.

A dozen of the right whale deaths last year are believed to have occurred in waters off Canada. The cause of death for most of the incidents were from blunt force trauma, or vessel strikes, and injuries suffered during entanglements.

Last summer, officials did impose a mandatory 10-knot speed limit in the western area of the Gulf of St. Lawrence for vessels 20 meters in length or longer.

Other regulations include requiring weights to keep rope vertical once traps have been set, color-coding ropes for different regions to help identify where entanglements occur, and requiring fishermen to report lost gear.

Gear will also be inspected rigorously while boats are docked and at sea before and during the snow crab season.

“There will none the less continue to be issues of ship strike and entanglement as long as right whales are in that area and one assumes they will be this year,” Mayo said.

Mayo does hope the new crab fishing regulations and the 10-knot speed limit reduce the number of fatalities from last year.

“But boats will still be there and that’s unavoidable,” Mayo said. “And even boats of that size traveling 10 knots can be lethal and we know that’s the case. Though 10 knots certainly is a lot better than anything [faster].”

Mayo said it remains to be seen whether or not these actions will have a really significant impact on preventing right whale deaths.

“U.S. fishermen have been doing some of the same things that are listed in the Canadian government’s press release and we have continued to see entanglements and ship strikes,” he said. “I think any effort is really important. We will hope that it has some sort of positive effect.”


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