Canada toughens rules to protect North Atlantic right whales

Canada has further strengthened its vessel speed restriction scheme in the Gulf of St Lawrence. The aim is to help prevent collisions between endangered North Atlantic right whales and ships during the 2020 whale season.

The habitat and migration routes of right whales along the East Coast of Canada and the US are located close to major ports and often overlap with shipping lanes. Fishing gear entanglements are collisions with vessels are now two of the main causes of premature death of right whales.

On February 27th Transport Canada announced that several vessel traffic management measures would be enforced in the Gulf of St Lawrence during the 2020 whale season. They are applicable to all vessels more than 13 m in overall length:

In the Northern and Southern Static Zones a fixed mandatory speed restriction of maximum 10 knots will apply from April 28th to September 15th.

In the Dynamic Shipping Zones A to E a temporary mandatory speed restriction of maximum 10 knots will enter into force when a right whale is spotted near or in the shipping lanes during the period April 28th to September 15th. This temporary mandatory speed restriction will be in force for 15 days from the last sighting in the zone.

In the Seasonal Management Areas north and south of Dynamic Shipping Zone E, a fixed mandatory speed restriction of maximum 10 knots applies from April 28th to September 15th. From July 1st to September 15th a temporary mandatory speed restriction of 10 knots will enter into force if a right whale is spotted in the area and will remain in force for 15 days.

In the Restricted Area near the Shediac Valley a fixed mandatory speed restriction of maximum 8 knots will be implemented mid-season to protect larger numbers of North Atlantic right whales that normally aggregate in the area. The effective date and exact location of the area is yet to be determined and will be based on observed distributions of the whales. This information will be communicated to mariners via navigational warnings.

A Trial Voluntary Speed Restriction Zone has been established ahead of the 2020 whale season and spans from Cabot Strait to the eastern edge of Dynamic Shipping Zone E. To coincide with the North Atlantic right whales’ migration in and out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a voluntary speed restriction of maximum 10 knots applies in this zone during the periods April 28th to June 15th and October 1st to November 15th.

Gard said that members and clients with vessels trading to the Gulf of St. Lawrence should make every effort to ensure that masters are informed of the speed restriction zones in force at any given time. Masters should also be encouraged to reduce the ship’s speed to 10 knots or less while transiting areas with voluntary speed restrictions, or alternatively route around the area, and to post lookouts that are familiar with spotting right whales.

Gard said that if a deviation from the speed restrictions was necessary for safety reasons, a logbook entry must be made, stating the reason for the deviation, speed at which the vessel operated, latitude and longitude at the time of the deviation and time and duration of the deviation. The entry must be signed by the master. If Transport Canada determines that a vessel did not comply with the speed restrictions in force, vessel operators could be fined between C$6,000 and C$25,000.

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