The Canadian government is implementing a temporary mandatory slowdown for vessels of 20 metres or more in length to address the deaths of North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, CBC News has learned.
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc and Minister of Transport Marc Garneau are scheduled to hold a news conference at the Pointe-du-Chêne Wharf in southeastern New Brunswick at 10:30 a.m. AT to announce the new temporary measures.
The slowdown is expected to drop to 10 knots and will affect vessels travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence, from the Quebec north shore to just north of Prince Edward Island.
The measure will be enforced by Transport Canada inspectors and the Canadian Coast Guard’s Marine Communications and Traffic Services.
Vessels that don’t comply face an Administrative Monetary Penalty of $6,000 to $25,000. The measure will be enforced until the whales have migrated from the areas of concern.
Sources also say Ottawa will “continue to consider all options” to help prevent future whale deaths.
Ten of the endangered whales have died in the gulf since June 7. Two others have washed up dead in the Masshachusetts area in recent weeks.
Preliminary necropsy reports on some of the gulf deaths suggest ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement are possible causes.
Last week, LeBlanc pledged the federal government would do whatever it takes to prevent further deaths of the “iconic animals” in the busy gulf, which connects central and Eastern Canada to international shipping markets.
“Every option to protect right whales is on the table,” the minister had said, citing changes to shipping lanes, increased aerial surveillance, remote-controlled acoustic equipment, or changes to fishing gear among the possibilities.
Only about 500 right whales are left in the world, according to fisheries officials.
Marine mammal experts have called on the government to take immediate steps to prevent further deaths.
LeBlanc has said the two federal departments are working closely together and with some of the best scientists in the world to address the “serious and troubling situation” that poses a threat to Canada’s global reputation.
He expects a final report by mid-September, he had said.