Coast guard ship fined for speeding in gulf

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dead right whale
Researchers check out a dead right whale in the Gulf of St.Lawrence in a handout photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Department of Fisheries and Oceans)

OTTAWA – A Canadian Coast Guard vessel has been fined $6,000 for speeding in violation of measures aimed at protecting North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Transport Canada says the coast guard ship breached the 10-knot speed limit in the western gulf, which applies to vessels of more than 20 metres.

The penalty is the third of its kind since the speed restrictions were announced in August as part of an effort to prevent further right whale deaths in the gulf.

In each case, vessel owners have been asked to either pay the fine or ask for a review within 30 days.

Eleven right whales have died in the Gulf of St. Lawrence since June, an unprecedented number of deaths for the endangered marine mammal.

Fisheries officials say the most recent carcass was located off the coast of New Brunswick on Friday morning.

 

Right whale deaths in Gulf of St. Lawrence

Right Whale Sightings
North Atlantic Right whale sightings – Gulf of St. Lawrence, Bay of Fundy, 2017. The red zones indicate the temporary mandatory slow down areas as part of measures to protect North Atlantic right whales by the federal government. – Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The federal government is ordering large vessels to slow down in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, as it tries to protect right whales who frequent the waters.

Ten of the endangered mammals have died in the gulf since early June – at least some after colliding with ships.

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Transport Minister Marc Garneau went to Pointe-du-Chene, N.B., earlier this month to announce immediate temporary measures aimed at preventing further whale deaths.

Garneau said vessels of 20 metres or more will be required to slow to 10 knots – or about 19 kilometres per hour – while travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence, from the Quebec north shore to just north of Prince Edward Island. The limits of that zone are subject to change, he said.

“These are reasonable measures to accomplish something very important,” Garneau said. “I think that Canadians and the shipping industry and the fishing industry recognize that this is something most unusual and we need to take measures.”

The measure will be enforced by Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard. Ships that don’t comply with the speed limit will be subject to a financial penalty of up to $25,000.

Smaller ships are being asked to voluntarily abide by the speed limit, which will remain in place until the whales have migrated from the areas of the gulf that pose the most concern.

The measure was designed in consultation with the fishing and shipping industries, who Garneau said have for the most part embraced the conservation effort.

“We do realize that there is some impact, but I think the marine industry also recognizes that we are trying to achieve something extremely important,” he said.

Garneau said cruising speeds typically hover around 15 knots, on average, but faster vessels can reach up to 25 knots.

The speed limit is meant to reduce the frequency and fatality of ship strikes, he said.

Federal officials did their “homework” before deciding on the measure, the minister said, including working with their U.S. counterparts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which implemented similar speed restrictions in right whale habitats in 2010.

LeBlanc said the federal government has spent around $360,000 on performing necropsies, akin to animal autopsies, on six whale carcasses. He said the full results of these examinations are expected to be released next month.

Early findings suggest some of the whales died of either entanglements with fishing gear, or from blunt trauma caused by ship collisions.

It’s believed 80 to 100 right whales are currently in the gulf, LeBlanc said, and scientists expect the mammals to migrate south some time this fall.

The Fisheries Department has already taken steps to prevent further deaths, including shortening the snow crab season and asking fishermen in the gulf to report any whale sightings.

LeBlanc said the existing measures will be continuously reviewed based on aerial surveillance of the whales’ migration patterns. He said further steps may include temporary fishery closures, changes to fishing gear, and shipping lane adjustments.

The speed restrictions could lead to up to seven-hour delays for some voyages, according to the Ottawa-based Chamber of Marine Commerce, but president Bruce Burrows said industry stakeholders are committed to protecting marine life.

“These recent whale deaths are deeply troubling for our members too,” Burrows said in a statement. “It’s critical that industry and government continue to work closely together to develop solutions based on strong science that both protect marine wildlife and minimize economic impacts.”

Confirmed Right Whale Deaths

Whale Discovered Analysis ID, sex, age (if known) (1)
? July 30, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – near River of Ponds
Samples taken (photographs, finger bones, tissue samples, measurements) on August 3, 2017 Female, no ID
? July 27, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – in Cedar Cove
Samples taken (photographs, finger bones, measurements) on July 30, 2017 Female, no ID
10 July 27, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – near Cape Ray
Samples taken (photographs, finger bones, measurements) on July 30, 2017 Male, no ID
9 July 21, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – near Church Point
Samples taken (photographs, finger bones, tissue samples, measurements) on July 29, 2017 Male, no ID
8 July 19, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – northeast New Brunswick
Necropsy: July 21, 2017
Miscou Island, New Brunswick
“Peanut”
M, 26 years
7 July 6, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – near Magdalen Islands
Necropsy: July 10, 2017
Magdalen Islands, Quebec
Male, no ID
6 June 23, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – south-central area of Gulf
Necropsy: June 30, 2017
Norway, Prince Edward Island
“1207″
M, at least 37 years
5 June 22, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – south-central area of Gulf
Samples were taken at sea on June 22, 2017 Female (no ID)
4 June 21, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – south-central area of Gulf
Necropsy: July 1, 2017
Norway, Prince Edward Island
“Starboard”
F, 11 years
3 June 18, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – south-central area of Gulf
Necropsy: July 9, 2017 Magdalen Islands, Quebec

Samples were also taken at sea on June 22 2017 date.

“Panama”
M, at least 17 years
2 June 19, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – south-central area of Gulf
Necropsy: June 29, 2017
Norway, Prince Edward Island
“Glacier”
M, 33 years
1 June 7, 2017
Gulf of St. Lawrence – south-central area of Gulf
None “3746”
M, 10 years

(1) ID refers to the known identity of animals based on information in the Right Whale Catalogue that is maintained by the New England Aquarium.

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