For the first time in more than five years, a North Atlantic right whale entanglement has been confirmed to be connected to Canada’s lobster fishery.
“In this particular case, the harvester had reported their lost fishing gear to DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) as is required by their conditions of licence,” says DFO.
“During the last weekend of January 2023, marine mammal rescue responders in the United States (U.S.) successfully disentangled North Atlantic right whale 1218, an adult male known as Argo. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has since been working closely with counterparts at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to investigate the gear and determine its origin. Following this preliminary investigation, it was determined that the gear originated from Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 33 off the southern coast of Nova Scotia.”
On Jan. 27, the North Carolina aerial survey team sighted Argo approximately 10 miles east of Surf City, North Carolina. The whale was first cataloged in 1981, making him at least 42 years old. His last known pre-entanglement sighting was off Massachusetts in May 2022.
“Entangling gear was wrapped tightly around the whale’s tail and flukes and the whale appeared to be dragging something heavy under its tail. The entanglement was severe enough that the whale was mostly swimming with its pectoral fins instead of its tail. Authorized and trained responders from Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute and Duke University Marine Lab responded. Over three days, they worked to document, attach a satellite tag to the trailing gear and finally remove the entanglement from the whale’s tail and flukes. Staff from NOAA Fisheries, Center for Coastal Studies, and New England Aquarium provided offsite assistance. The response team was also able to recover all of the gear removed from the whale. This included approximately 157 feet of line and the two wire mesh traps that were dragging behind the whale. NOAA Fisheries and our partners, including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, studied the recovered gear and determined the gear originated from Canadian Lobster Fishing Area 33 off the southern coast of Nova Scotia,” says NOAA.
“On the weekend of Jan. 21, U.S. marine mammal rescue responders also successfully disentangled North Atlantic right whale 3812, a 15-year-old male known as Nimbus. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to examine the origin of the gear,” says DFO.
On Jan. 20, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission whale survey aircraft sighted Nimbus 13 miles east of Jekyll Island, Georgia. Authorized responders and trained experts from multiple agencies worked from boats with specialized tools to remove approximately 375 feet of rope that was passing through the whale’s mouth and dragging hundreds of feet behind its flukes. Nimbus’ last known pre-entanglement sighting was Aug. 8, 2022 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
“Future North Atlantic right whale protection measures will be informed by the results of these investigations,” says DFO.
“We will continue working closely with the U.S. on our joint efforts to protect this endangered species. Canada is proud to have mandatory lost gear reporting to help protect North Atlantic right whales. Lost gear reports help DFO and partners retrieve lost gear, return it to their owners, identify the origin of retrieved gear and find solutions to address causes of gear-loss. Canada has world-class measures to protect North Atlantic right whales. Canada has implemented a dynamic closure system to protect whales whenever they’re sighted, are removing ghost gear to reduce entanglements and are working with harvesters to support the use of whale-safe fishing gear technology.”
DFO says 2023 fishery management measures for North Atlantic right whales will be announced in the coming weeks. The timeline to test and implement requirements to use low breaking strength fishing gear in non-tended, fixed gear and commercial trap and pot gear has been extended to 2024 for fisheries in Atlantic Canada and Québec.
Tommy Amirault, president of the Coldwater Lobster Association, said there are a lot of different districts and groups such as the crabbers in the Gulf who have been trying different things.
“There’s no real hard policy changes or regulations as of yet. I think that’s because for the most part some of these fisheries are really different. It’s not a one size fits all thing and I think fishermen have been trying different things. I can only speak for LFA 34, it’s been really hard to find anything that’s practical that works for fishermen. If it doesn’t work for me it makes it really hard for me to do my job as a roper; is it strong enough, is it parting off too early, or is it not big enough to haul with? All the groups are having a really hard job of finding anything that works the whole way around,” says Amirault.
“I know DFO wants to put a one size fits all policy in place, but I don’t think that’s going to be able to happen. It’s going to take a while to figure out what will work in each place and I’m not sure there is anything that will work perfectly,” says Amirault.
It is estimated there are less than 350 North Atlantic right whales left.