June 14, 2018 4:57 pm
Updated: June 14, 2018 5:14 pm

Changes to lobster fishing in Gulf of St. Lawrence to move forward Friday

WATCH: Hundreds of New Brunswick lobster fishermen demonstrated in the community of Caraquet, N.B., ahead of major changes that will be implemented to their industry, starting Friday. Morganne Campbell explains.

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Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) minister says he does not intend to backtrack on his plan to restrict lobster fishing in certain areas of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, just a day before the changes go into effect.

DFO has already temporarily closed 4,600-square kilometres of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and another 780-square kilometres in the Roseway Basin off Nova Scotia’s southern coast to non-tended fixed gear fisheries such as snow crab and lobster.

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The department also rejected a proposal by the group representing Gulf of St. Lawrence lobster fishermen, that would allow for a shallow-water exemption.

“We consulted experts in Canada and the United States, and unfortunately, we weren’t able to accept some of these suggestions,” said federal DFO Minister Dominic LeBlanc. “The main reason being that we have scientific evidence that in the United States and in Canada, the North Atlantic right whale, including females and calves, have spent a considerable amount of time in the shallower waters.”

The changes were implemented after 18 North Atlantic right whales died in Canadian and United States water last year.

READ MORE: Lobster fishermen frustrated over right whale closures: union

Lobster fishing industry responds

Carl Allen, president of the Maritime Fishing Union, believes the pending changes to the industry will leave a lasting impact, and that many are skeptical of the studies that government is relying upon.

“Are those studies done in Canadian waters? Are those studies done in the very waters they’re asking fishermen to leave? I don’t think so,” says Allen. “I think those studies were done in U.S. waters. Show them to us. Show us.”

But LeBlanc says many of the studies were conducted north of the border, including in the Bay of Fundy, where electronic tagging spotted several of the right whales near the ocean’s surface “for a considerable amount of time.”

“It’s also important, I think, to realize that because of the importance of protecting the North Atlantic right whale … we think that we can’t take chances,” LeBlanc said. “We have to have the most rigorous, science-based plan in place.”

WATCH: Canada closes more fisheries to protect Right whales

Changes will have ‘serious impact,’ Conservatives say

During question period in the House of Commons on Thursday, Conservative MP Lisa Raitt criticized the decision to restrict lobster fishing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, claiming the move will have a “serious financial impact” on fishing families in the Maritimes.

“Why does it have to come to a blockade to get [LeBlanc’s] attention?” Raitt asked.

LeBlanc responded by stating that government is taking the most “robust measures” to save the right whale.

“Protecting the North Atlantic right whale is vital to ensuring the continued access to international markets, for over $6 billion of Canadian fish and seafood exports,” LeBlanc replied.

“We understand that this decision is difficult, we understand that fishers and plant workers will be concerned … we’ll continue to work with them to ensure they’re protected.”

WATCH: Minister of Fisheries will look at ways to replace fishermen’s lost income

No reported deaths of right whales in 2018

There have so far been no reported North Atlantic right whale deaths in Canadian waters this year, according to federal officials, but dozens have been spotted.

DFO says aerial surveillance has detected at least 75 whales in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. Jean Landry, DFO’s director of marine mammal science, says that figure likely underestimates the total number in the area and other Canadian waters.

Landry says observers have logged 371 flying hours since early April, more than last year’s total by science aircraft.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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