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Right whale sighting shuts down lobster fishing section for at least 15 days

An overhead shot of a North Atlantic Right Whale cow with her calf from the documentary
An overhead shot of a North Atlantic Right Whale cow with her calf from the documentary

Some Island lobster fishers will have to pull their traps even though they're just three weeks in the fishing season.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is asking lobster fishers to remove all gear in a portion of Lobster Fishing Area 24 within the next 96 hours due the confirmed sighting of a North Atlantic right whale.

The whale was at the 10 and 20 fathom line in LFA 24 off the Island's northern coast, the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association said in a release.

"DFO asks licence holders to be vigilant during fishing activities concerning the presence of North Atlantic right whales," the Fisheries and Oceans said in a notice.

The North Atlantic right whale is listed as endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act.

"This is a 15-day closure, and Day 1 begins on the official day the closure activates," the PEIFA said.

"DFO will send flights over the area between days 9 and 15 of the closure. If [the whales] are sighted during that time, as per DFO protocol, the area will remain closed until Nov. 15."

The area will reopen if there is no sightings, the PEIFA said.

From Tignish to New London

CBC/Google Earth
CBC/Google Earth

The grid goes basically from Tignish to New London. Some areas that could be affected according to the PEIFA are:

  • Tignish.

  • Alberton.

  • Hardy's Channel.

  • Malpeque.

  • Lennox Island.

  • Darnley.

  • French River.

The closure is limited to waters deeper than 10 fathoms, or just over 18 metres.

"Fishers are allowed to fish in waters shallower than the 10-fathom protocol line," the PEIFA said.

DFO has an interactive map of right whale sightings.

'The heart of our season'

Charlie McGeoghegan, chair of the P.E.I. Lobster Marketing Board, said the early closure is "very disappointing."

"I haven't seen the grid area yet to see how many of our fishers it is going to affect, but it is going to affect some for sure, and that's very disappointing," he said.

"It's the heart of our season."

Aaron Adetuyi/CBC
Aaron Adetuyi/CBC

The season at LFA 24 lasts two months. If sections are closed for 15 days, that could have a "huge impact" on fishers' bottom lines, McGeoghegan said.

"We can't control where the whales go. They are obviously chasing food," he said. "Just, it makes it hard for us to do our job when there are interactions like that. I really think there needs to be another solution to this...

"This is a huge part of the P.E.I. economy, and it is just being greatly affected by whales swimming by an area."

McGeoghegan isn't aware of any right whale ever getting caught in lobster fishing gear, he said.