A fishermen’s group says the federal government is jumping the gun with a costly fisheries closure in the Bay of Fundy following the sighting of a single North Atlantic right whale.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says the area in Grand Manan Basin will be closed to fixed-gear fishing from 11:59 p.m. Thursday until further notice.
The closure affects lobster, crab, groundfish, herring and mackerel licences.
But Brian Guptill, president of the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association, said the government was too quick to act.
“A vessel … sees one right whale that is moving, not stopped and feeding, and they shut the fishery down because of that. The airplane was up this morning and couldn’t find a whale anywhere,” he said.
Guptill said DFO should take a more measured approach.
“It’s a matter of the number of whales or number of sightings. If you just see one whale and it’s travelling … the whale could be gone before you get the traps out of the water,” he said.
Guptill said the closure is costly for 30 to 40 fishermen who will lose the last week of the season in that area.
Ottawa says all gear must be removed before Thursday’s closure, and notice will be given prior to the reopening.
The right whale population suffered 17 losses last year – 12 of them in Canadian waters – likely due to rope entanglements and ship collisions.
Guptill said the government is overlooking the effective protection measures that Bay of Fundy fishermen have taken.
“We’ve had a right whale mitigation strategy and we’ve been working to have no impact on the whales since 2006. There hasn’t been a known entanglement since that time,” he said.
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So far this year, the government has closed a number of East Coast fishing areas, mostly in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and fishermen have complained to Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc about lost opportunities.
Last week, LeBlanc said he’s offering lobster fishermen from New Brunswick and Quebec a fall fishery due to the closure of a vast area where endangered right whales have been spotted.
He said he told the Maritime Fishermen’s Union that he plans to open a harvesting zone in the last half of September to make up for the 15-day closure of a 1,400-square-kilometre portion of ocean.
LeBlanc said the offer will go to about 62 fishing vessels in New Brunswick and 60 from the Gaspe Peninsula whose lobster harvest was largely shut down as the whales passed through.