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New Fishing Gear Developed to Protect Right Whales

A few months before the start of the snow crab season in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, fishermen are looking for ways to protect Right Whales. One of them is a new rope-free locker technology that floats on the surface.

Representatives from the Maritime Fishermen’s Union return from a training session at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. They saw a brand new type of underwater buoy.

Instead of staying on the surface, where it holds ropes connected to fishing racks, the buoy rests at the bottom of the water. Ropes that connect different traps are all held in the seabed, which prevents whales from getting entangled.

The entanglement in ropes is one of the causes of the many deaths of right whales in 2017 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

When fishermen come to retrieve their traps, an acoustic system that is still in development could bring buoys and traps to the surface.

“It’s something that’s a little new to us […], following the development in the last 12 months. On the industry side, we are looking at different options in the short, medium and long term to minimize the impact [fishing equipment] on the right whale, “says Martin Mallet, Acting Director General of the Atlantic Ocean. the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, a coastal fishermen’s union.

The idea of ​​submerged buoys appeals to fishermen. They especially appreciate a prototype equipped with an airbag that would bring the racks to the surface.

“It would use almost zero rope,” says Martin Mallet. It requires the development of acoustic technology to communicate with the lockers, back and forth with lockers and boats. […] We agree that there is still a lot of development to be done on this side.”

A pilot project in view

Offshore fishers who catch most of the crab quota (60% of the quota, 120 vessels in the Maritimes) are also interested in new equipment. They even intend to test them as part of a pilot project.

“Among the proposals that will be submitted to Fisheries and Oceans under the Atlantic Fisheries Fund, we will submit a project to test two or three of these configurations without cables as of 2018 […]. to test it this year, “says Robert Haché of the Association des crabiers acadiens.

The problem, he says, is that new equipment is expensive.

“It does not matter which rack without a string right now, it’s too expensive to be able to apply that on a commercial basis.”

Other measures are needed

A few weeks ago, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced new measures to protect right whales , such as the reduction of ropes and the mandatory reporting of fishing traps lost in the ocean.

New Brunswick crab processor Gilles Thériault says we need to go much further.

The processors are proposing that the start of the crab fishery be delayed by two to three weeks, that the movements of the whales are better monitored, so that we know at all times, as far as possible, where they are and that we develop an alert system to react more quickly in case of entanglement.

One of these proposals, an early start to the season, is already under discussion.

This year, we want to catch the crab quota as soon as possible, hoping that we will have captured our quota and that the traps will be removed from the water before the arrival of the whales.

Gilles Thériault, NB Crab Processor Representative

“We are also thinking [of the possibility], if at any given time we have a concentration of whales on the territory of crabs, [to close] temporarily this territory if there are too many whales in this specific place”, adds there.

Canada’s reputation at stake

Industry players know that a solution must be found quickly: Canada’s reputation for protecting endangered species is at stake.

“It’s even beyond the borders of our neighbors, it’s an international phenomenon! We are going to talk about it in Europe too […], so this whale story is very sensitive and it can tarnish the image of Canada if it was ever perceived that we were not taking all the means to avoid mortalities caused by humans “, believes Gilles Thériault.

Voices are already rising in the United States for a boycott of Canadian snow crab. Although this threat is still considered remote by the industry, the consequences would be significant: 83% of the catch in the Maritimes is exported to the United States, worth $233 million.

“It’s certainly a fear […],” admits Martin Mallet. You have to do public relations work to show the work being done on the Canadian side to change the whale. […] Especially with the US administration presents that is special, we do not know how it could turn.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada recognizes the risk of not acting aggressively. The ministry is to announce other measures that will be in effect before the next season.

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