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‘Find some good solutions’: governments, experts, fishermen prepare for 2020 right whale regulations

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. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Michael Dwyer

An annual roundtable meeting held by officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has wrapped up after discussing how to deal with the declining North Atlantic right whale population.

The subject has become controversial after at least nine confirmed deaths in 2019, with several preliminary findings indicating vessel strikes were the cause.

Some of the deaths came despite the Canadian government cracking down tighter on fisheries closures and speed restrictions, but the impact on the fishing industry is part of what makes regulations such a controversial topic.

All but one of the deaths have been in Canadian waters.

READ MORE: Right whale’s death likely caused by entanglement in Canadian fishing gear

Ten North Atlantic right whales have been found dead in 2019, according to the U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, although it’s not clear if one was spotted twice.

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The whales being driven to the Gulf of St. Lawrence by environmental conditions, experts have said, with climate change and feed being two reasons for that habitation.

The Maritime Fishermen’s Union says an earlier fishing season, dealing with ghost gear and identifying gear are all things they’re pushing for to make improvements.

That’s important, “In order to try to figure out, if in the future, we have whales entangled, where they’re from, where the (entanglement happened),” says Martin Mallet, the executive director of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union.

Mallet notes the fishing industry and cruise-line industry all have a role to play, but says the collaboration with government and other stakeholders is key.

“I think that we will find some good solutions moving forward that will enable these whales to co-exist with our industries and vice-versa,” he says. “Canada is an absolute leader in terms of the innovations that are going on right now.”

Federal government cracking down on abandoned fishing equipment
Federal government cracking down on abandoned fishing equipment

Pointing to the fact that 2017 was when the right whale death tolls first caught people’s attention, he says evidence-based solutions take time and it can be a challenge with whales showing different patterns.

The roundtable meeting held in Moncton Thursday included approximately 50 fishers, provincial government officials, marine mammal experts and Indigenous stakeholders, DFO said.

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It was to recap of 2019 and talking about preparing for 2020.

Adam Burns, the director general of Fisheries Management for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, tells Global News he also believes there’s room for an important industry and an endangered species to co-exist.

“We’ll be working with the various fleets within the fishing industry. There may not be a one-size-fits-all solution in terms of fishing gear modifications, it’s likely going to be a different combination of measures for, for example the crab fishery, than for a lobster fishery or some other fishery.”

He says any shipping regulations would be up to Transport Canada.

READ MORE: Scientists await necropsy results on right whale found in U.S. waters

It’s estimated approximately 400 of the endangered whales remain. But the 2019 death toll raised many questions after no deaths were reported in 2018.

Most recently, it was “Snake Eyes,” a 40-year-old male found dead near New York’s coastline in mid-September.

Only a month earlier, Snake Eyes was seen entangled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence when he was reported as the fourth entangled right whale in Canadian waters this year.

DFO says fisheries management measures will remain in place until officials are confident all the whales have left Canadian waters, but 2020 regulations will be announced in the new year.

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