HomeIndustryRight Whales Key Issue Discussed at Annual Lobster Forum

Right Whales Key Issue Discussed at Annual Lobster Forum

There was no shortage of information for fishermen from LFAs 33, 34 and 35 to consider and discuss during the third annual SWNS Lobster Forum in Yarmouth on September 19.

A global marketing analysis, the industry-driven by-catch monitoring pilot project, offshore petroleum exploration, new provincial coastal legislation and a panel discussion and workshop on North Atlantic right whales were all part of the day-long agenda.

“The SWNS Lobster Forum is an opportunity for fishermen to not just learn more about issues, but also to engage and give credible feedback to DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans),” said Ruth Innis, Maritime Fishermen’s Union (MFU), Local 9, one of the five fishermen’s organizations who co-organized the forum. The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, the Scotia Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association, Coldwater Lobster Association and Brazil Rock 33/34 are the other associations.

“The workshop on the North Atlantic right whale is an excellent example of the kind of communication and engagement that needs to take place in the industry,” said Innis. “Industry was given the opportunity to make mitigation suggestions and these will be submitted to DFO.”

“How should we be involved in mitigation measures for the North Atlantic right whale?” was the question posed to fishermen during the North Atlantic right whale panel and workshop.

Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, Lawrence Cook, president of the Lobster Council of Canada, Jonathan Underwood, DFO and Martin Mallet, executive director of the MFU, were on the panel.

Mallet said what happened in the Gulf in 2017 with right whales and the snow crab fishery was a “perfect storm event.” There was a double quota to fish for snow crab, so the fishery lasted a month longer, gear with extra-long lines was being used and then the whales came.

“When DFO reacted, they painted all fixed gear the same colour,” said Mallet.

“Lobster, herring, mackerel… I think industry needs to be involved in the solutions moving forward. There’s no better person to give insight how to be more efficient and co-exist with whales than fishermen. Up to now all the scenarios we suggested to DFO — most of them have not been taken into account. We’re hoping in next few months looking to 2019, we hope new science coming out will be able to change the situation next year.”

Cook, a Grand Manan fishermen, said right whales first became an issue in his area in 2006, when the opening of LFA 38 was delayed due to right whales being present on the fishing grounds. In response, industry created a mitigation strategy.

“We didn’t harm any whales that year and haven’t harmed any whales since,” said Cook.

Flash forward to 2018,  Cook said LFA 38 lobster fishermen were “treated the same this spring when whales showed up in the  critical whale habitat as those with no mitigation strategy and no record. We’ve been working on this for 12 years and have had 12 years success. It’s important to remember the lobster fishery didn’t kill any whales in 2017.”

Underwood told fishermen that in 2018, there were more than 63 notices of closures to harvesters due to the presence of right whales, mostly in the Gulf. A closure in Roseway Basin off Southwestern Nova Scotia happened just days after the LFA 34 fishery closed on May 31.

Some of the suggestions from fishermen on the how to deal with whales included:

  • Using as short as possible lines
  • Fair and equal treatment for all industries
  • Sticking together on this issue as lobster fishermen
  • Two confirmed whale sightings before any closure
  • Industry should be the leader in the protocol-making process and should be the ones implementing the criteria
  • DFO should be supporting industry collaboration between academics, regulators and industry

“Fishermen have not been involved in the decision-making process. If industry is ready to take steps to protect whales then they should be considered in the decision-making process is a strong theme all the way through,” said forum moderator Arthur Bull as he read the workshop responses. “There should be a working group set up and industry should be at the table.”