As a few innovative Nova Scotia companies forge ahead with efforts to develop new ropeless fishing technologies, the presence of right whales continues to be a concern for area lobster fishermen and the industry in general.
While the majority of Atlantic right whale sightings in Canadian waters and subsequent fishing closures have taken place to the north in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, lobster fishermen are still worried about an upsurge in the lobbying effort to further protect the endangered whales by limiting fishing activity.
Several conservation groups, notably in the United States have been quite active in lobbying both governments and the public to take measures to protect the whales by pushing for even harsher conservation measures.
And these ongoing lobbying efforts are gaining some traction, particularly in the U.S.
Early this fall, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is expected to release new rules designed to reduce risk to North Atlantic right whales in U.S. waters.
The new rules for American fishermen will focus on reducing the number of vertical ropes in the water, as well as modifying restricted areas of ocean. It has been speculated that the first phase of rules will be designed to reduce risk to the whales by 60 per cent. Later phases, which could take effect by 2030, call for an almost complete reduction of risk to the animals.
Members of the industry said that could make it harder to get lobsters to consumers.
As a result of these ongoing concerns, the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative (MLMC) conducted a survey on the perception of the Maine lobster industry and the impact of the ongoing right whale issue. After polling 503 adults who consumed lobster at least once in the past two years, the study found that “almost no one (one per cent) can recall any news regarding conservation issues with whales and Maine lobster.”
The MLMC added that even when prompted with leading questions, consumers who “say they have heard some or a great deal about the issue are still buying and eating Maine lobster.”
“With that said, sustainability is still important for consumers. However, consumers aren’t informed on the nuances of the certifications.”
According to the MLMC, “highlighting positive sustainability efforts can outweigh certification importance with consumers.”
Overall, the study found that Maine lobstermen have a strong reputation and the state lobster fishery is seen as sustainable by 64 per cent of those surveyed. Only six per cent of those polled see the industry “negatively.”
The MLMC added that the “big picture” from the study is that the “right whale issue is not having a noticeable impact on sales of lobster.”
No such survey has been conducted on the consumer perceptions of the Canadian lobster industry, which is having another strong year. However, the federal government in Ottawa continues to tweak and strengthen its rules regarding right whale protections.
This past winter, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) rolled over its 2020 North Atlantic right whale protection measures for 2021 and introduced a series of modified regulations. These included:
- The mandatory restricted area in and near the Shediac Valley will be refined by size, location and duration to better protect right whales that are anticipated to be present in great numbers in this area during the summer months. Timing and exact coordinates of this zone are being confirmed and will be communicated to mariners once finalized.
- The speed limit exemption in waters of less than 20 fathoms will be expanded to all commercial fishing vessels.
- The National Aerial Surveillance Program will be Transport Canada’s primary tool to monitor for North Atlantic right whales in the shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island. To complement the surveillance platform, a remotely piloted aircraft system (or drone) and an underwater acoustic glider will once again be incorporated into the monitoring plans for part of the season.