The federal government will bring “absolutely every protection to bear” to prevent deaths of North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc pledged on Thursday.
His department is working closely with Transport Canada to address the “serious and troubling situation” and will provide whatever resources are necessary to protect the endangered species as well as the people who work near the “iconic animals,” he said during a news conference in Moncton.
The government is prepared to “take all necessary steps,” he said, noting the 10 recent confirmed deaths pose a threat to Canada’s global reputation.
“Every option to protect right whales is on the table,” the minister said, citing changes to shipping lanes, increased aerial surveillance, remote-controlled acoustic equipment or changes to fishing gear as being among the possibilities.
LeBlanc said he plans to convene a symposium with representatives of the marine and fishing industries to discuss and finalize the options. “We have a lot more work to do.”
Ten right whales have died in the Gulf of St. Lawrence since June 7 — four of them washing up on the west coast of Newfoundland in the past week alone.
Preliminary necropsy reports suggest ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement are possible causes.
At least two other whales had to be freed from snow crab gear in recent weeks, including one saved by Joe Howlett, a 59-year-old fisherman from Campobello Island, N.B., who was killed during the rescue near Shippagan on July 10.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada estimates there are only about 500 right whales left in the world, which means the deaths represent about two per cent of the global population. At least two of the dead whales were females.
Marine mammal experts have called on the federal government to take immediate steps to prevent further deaths.
LeBlanc said Thursday it’s a challenging problem, given the volume of shipping and marine traffic in the area. The Gulf of St. Lawrence connects central and Eastern Canada to international shipping markets.