Environmental Group Disappointed with Canada’s Lack of Increased Protections for Right Whales

Fisheries and Oceans Canada recently announced its 2024 protection measures for the endangered North Atlantic right whale, which remain unchanged from the previous year. The environmental advocacy group Oceana Canada has expressed disappointment with the government’s lack of increased protections, emphasizing the need for more stringent measures to ensure the species’ survival. The North Atlantic right whale population has been dwindling, with only an estimated 356 individuals remaining, including about 70 reproductive females.

2024 Protection Measures Remain Unchanged

The Canadian government, along with the Minister of Transport, announced that the 2024 fishery and vessel management measures will continue to use adaptive closure protocols, gear marking requirements, lost gear reporting, and vessel traffic management measures. These measures aim to protect the right whales from fishing gear entanglements and vessel strikes, the biggest threats to their survival. The adaptive closure protocols involve prohibiting fishing gear and activities in areas where right whales have been spotted for a certain period of time, with extensions if whales are spotted again within 9 to 15 days after the initial closure.

Additionally, surveillance measures are in place prior to the opening of some fishing seasons to ensure no right whales are present in the area. The 2024 guidelines also include a list of seven additional measures, which are identical to those from the previous year. Despite these efforts, Oceana Canada believes that the current measures are insufficient to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale population.

Oceana Canada Calls for Stronger Measures

Kim Elmslie, campaign director for Oceana Canada, highlights the dire situation facing the North Atlantic right whale population. With only 19 calves born last year and three presumed dead, the future of the species hangs in the balance. Elmslie emphasizes the need for a national strategy on whale-safe gear, including the introduction of ropeless fishing gear to prevent entanglements, which are a major cause of mortality for these whales.

Oceana Canada also suggests using rope that breaks at lower strengths, allowing whales to free themselves more easily if they become entangled. Elmslie points out that Canada is often ahead of the United States when it comes to protecting right whales, with a more collaborative approach involving fishermen in testing ropeless gear. However, she stresses that more work needs to be done to prevent the extinction of this iconic species.

Collaboration Needed to Protect Right Whales

While Canada has taken some positive steps, such as mandatory gear-marking and reporting of lost gear, Elmslie believes more collaboration is needed between the government and fishermen to protect the right whales from extinction. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has stated that it is working on developing a strategy for whale-safe fishing gear, but environmental groups like Oceana Canada stress the urgency of implementing stronger protection measures.

Elmslie acknowledges that the cost of ropeless fishing gear is high but hopes that government programs can help address this issue and facilitate the implementation of these changes. She also emphasizes the importance of a collaborative approach between the government, fishermen, and environmental groups to find solutions that protect both the whales and the livelihoods of those who depend on the fishing industry.

Urgent Action Required to Save the North Atlantic Right Whale

The lack of increased protection measures for the endangered North Atlantic right whale in Canada’s 2024 guidelines has left environmental groups, such as Oceana Canada, disappointed and concerned for the species’ future. As the right whale population continues to face threats from fishing gear entanglements and vessel strikes, it is crucial that the Canadian government, fishermen, and environmental organizations work together to implement stronger, more effective measures to ensure the survival of this iconic species.

The development and adoption of whale-safe fishing gear, such as ropeless technology and weaker ropes, could play a significant role in reducing the risks posed to right whales. By collaborating and investing in these solutions, Canada has the opportunity to lead the way in protecting this critically endangered species and preserving the health of its marine ecosystems for generations to come.