Researchers seek fishing ground closures off N.S., N.B., to protect right whales

Canadian researchers say they have a solution to a new U.S. government requirement that its seafood imports be caught in a way that minimizes harm to marine mammals.

A recently released paper recommends summertime closures in two fishing grounds off Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to protect one of the most threatened marine mammals in Atlantic Canadian waters — the North Atlantic right whale.

The idea is to get fishing gear and lines out of the water when endangered whales are in the area.

The risk analysis says not only would it help the whales — which have an estimated population of 520 —  it would also "maintain market access for Canadian seafood as other nations strengthen their laws on seafood imports."

Roseway Basin, Bay of Fundy targeted 

Sean Brillant, the report's lead author, has recommended the summertime closure of Roseway Basin off southwestern Nova Scotia and areas around Grand Manan in the Bay of Fundy. Those are two areas where North Atlantic right whales usually congregate in summer.

Closing them, the paper claims, would reduce the risk of gear entanglements by more than 30 per cent at a cost of 140 tonnes in lost seafood catches.

"It's these two areas where we are making our recommendations that seem to be the easiest place to achieve significant conservation benefits with little cost to fishermen," Brillant, a conservation biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Federation in Halifax, said in an interview.

Both areas have been deemed a critical habitat and shipping routes have been altered to avoid the area.

Fishermen's association urges caution

But on Grand Manan Island, there is skepticism.

"Once you draw a box you can't fish in, it's really hard to undraw the box," said Bonnie Morse of the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association.

Morse pointed out the migration pattern for right whales has been changing in recent years.

"If we're doing something, we have to make sure it's real," she said.  

"If we're drawing a box and the whales aren't there anymore, really we've just excluded fishermen from a traditional fishing ground for no good reason."