P.E.I. fishermen feel unjustified blame in right whale deaths, says PEIFA

Island fishermen feel they're being blamed in some cases of right whales becoming entangled in fishing gear and dying this year, according to the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association.

Several of the eight dead right whales found this year have been entangled in fishing gear.

"This year a number of the deaths that were necropsied already show to be due to vessel strikes rather than the entanglement," Melanie Giffin, program planner with the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association, told CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin.

Blaming Island fishermen is unjustified, she said — especially when it comes to fishing gear entanglements.

Over the weekend, experts on the Gaspé peninsula completed a necropsy on a right whale found dead off the Magdalen Islands and determined there was no evidence that whale was entangled in fishing gear.

Grabbing ghost gear

Giffin said Island fisherman care about the current situation facing North Atlantic right whales.

"They care about what's happening and they care about improving the situation," she said. 

Amy James/Center for Coastal Studies/NOAA permit 19315-1 via AP

The association has a North Atlantic right whale working group that gets together a few times a year to talk about how to better ensure the animals are not injured by boats or gear.

"Fishermen spend a lot of time in the winter in meetings with DFO talking about what we can do, how we can improve it, how can we make this balance work for both the whales and the fishing industry," she said.

"We will have conversations about gear retrieval."

She said recently the Department of Fisheries and Oceans did a "blitz" to recover lost gear — often called ghost gear.

And after the spring lobster season finished at the end of July, some fishermen on P.E.I. went back onto the water to help recover missing gear — pulling 59 traps and a gill net from Island waters.

Ropeless gear?

Giffin said the PEIFA has looked at alternatives to current fishing gear and has gone to annual meetings about ropeless fishing gear in North America.


She said the technology is new and evolving, and the PEIFA and its members are open to looking at new types of gear.

She also pointed out that right whales are seldom found inshore where Island fishermen set their traps. 

In 2018, there were no right whales found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence compared to 12 in 2017.

There are only about 400 North Atlantic right whales left.

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