Monday, November 30, 2009

Whales to get a break this lobster season

By Natalia Real | | November 30, 2009

"Hundreds of fishers in southwest Nova Scotia for the first time will be proactively lowering the chances of the endangered right whales from becoming entangled in floating fishing line when lobster fishing season opens on Monday.

One of the most endangered large whales on Earth, only 400 North Atlantic right whales remain. Ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are their greatest threats.

Canada’s shipping lanes have already been moved to minimize contact with the whales. For the past year and a half, lobster fishers in Lobster Fishing Areas (LFA) 33 and 34 in the Bay of Fundy have collaborated with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada to develop solutions to slash entanglements.

"Fishermen developed a plan to change fishing practices in a way that demonstrates leadership, commitment to conservation and a significant first step towards reducing this threat to the endangered North Atlantic right whale", said Robert Rangeley, Vice-President Atlantic Region, WWF-Canada. "It is an exciting example of collaboration and action which we hope provides a positive lesson of the benefits of integrated management for all ocean industries."

As whales swim to the waters off the southern US coast and back, lines attaching lobster traps to the ocean bottom can float and create nooses that ensnare whales and drown them or wrap around their mouths, precluding them from feeding. About 75 per cent of right whales have been observed to have scars created by fishing lines, The Canadian Press reports.

Until recently, there were no guidelines on the amount of rope that lobster fishers could use when setting their trawls or even how they set them. The new plan aims to keep rope out of whales’ path by specifying maximum rope lengths and optimal setting practices that keep ropes low and tight.

"Fishermen are often negatively portrayed when animals, particularly whales, become entangled in fishing gear", said Ashton Spinney, Industry Co-Chair of the LFA 34 Advisory Committee. "These rare and unfortunate situations are never intentional and no fisherman wants to see whales harmed."

In June, all of the Halifax port representatives in LFA 33 and 34 agreed on behalf of their fishers to adopt this first measure and take further action in the future to lower this threat as they gain more knowledge about entanglements.

"This is a great step towards minimising threats and giving right whales a chance of recovery," said Rangeley. "More work is necessary to better understand the problem and the effectiveness of solutions that will ensure recovery of this magnificent species."

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