Despite the federal government softening some of its North Atlantic right whale protection measures earlier in 2019, fishermen in this region still have good reasons to be very worried.
Now that the Liberals have returned to power in Ottawa, lobster harvesters are speculating if the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) will hold the line on when it comes to efforts to protect the endangered right whale.
And the fishermen in southwest Nova Scotia and west across the Bay of Fundy are not alone in their concerns. Their counterparts to the south, just across the U.S. border, are also in a similar situation with their regulatory body.
For the last few months, lobster fishermen in Maine have been in a back and forth debate with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service over proposed whale protection measures.
In April, the NOAA-led Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team agreed to a commitment to reduce risk by 60 per cent. The team is made up of both state agency and fishing industry members from Maine, including the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.
However, in September, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association announced it was backing away from its commitment to regional measures to reduce the risk of right whale serious injuries and deaths.
Chris Oliver, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said at the time that the Maine Lobstermen’s Association presented some information to suggest that the risk reduction target of 60 per cent was higher than necessary and noted the risk of entanglement posed by other fisheries. But he did indicate that the lines of communication would stay open with the key stakeholder group.
And that ongoing communication must have worked. In mid-October, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association appeared to be in a more conciliatory mood and announced it would be wiling to work together on a plan to protect right whales.
According to the Associated Press, the organization representing lobster fishermen said NOAA has offered a “constructive response” to the concerns it has voiced earlier about right whale measures, but noted that it still thinks the whale plan focuses too much on new restrictions for the industry.
“Going forward, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association will continue to insist on a science-based process informed by best available data to ensure rigorous accountability for risk to endangered whales from across the spectrum of human interactions with them,” the group said.
Just as fishermen in Maine are taking a cautiously optimistic approach to right whale protection measures, so too are harvesters on this side of the border.
The issue of right whale entanglements has been a very contentious issue in the fishery, leading to delays and suspensions of numerous fisheries in Atlantic Canada over the last two years.
Let’s hope a combination of cooperation and compromise between regulators and fishermen will lead to a more successful outcome for this season — including the whales.