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Fishing industry taking steps to protect endangered whales, says association

Capt. Louis Callaghan, of the Canadian Coast Guard ship S. Dudka, examines gear retrieved from lobster grounds off Prince Edward Island's North Shore following the closure of the spring fishery.
Capt. Louis Callaghan, of the Canadian Coast Guard ship S. Dudka, examines gear retrieved from lobster grounds off Prince Edward Island's North Shore following the closure of the spring fishery. - Contributed

ALBERTON, P.E.I. - The president of the Western Gulf Fishermen’s Association says he is proud of the efforts undertaken by spring lobster fishermen to help prevent fishing gear entanglements by endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Craig Avery said fishermen went with larger bunches during the fishing season to reduce the amount of rope in the water.

Shortly after the season closed, Avery estimates more than 30 boats assisted Fisheries and Oceans personnel in a two-day sweep of the lobster grounds, looking for missing or forgotten lobster gear.

The association president said he heard of 35 or 40 traps being found by fishermen and turned over to DFO for retrieval. He suspects the recovered gear had been accidentally left behind when the season ended.

Lobster traps can easily go missing, said Avery, pointing out fishermen often rely on their plotters to direct them to their gear.

“We’re fishing with plotters and electronics and they’re great (but), if one gets deleted off the screen, it’s hard to figure out that it’s gone; you just think you’re fishing it.”

If the gear had remained in the water, ropes would slime over, buoys would harden and it would become a greater threat to the endangered whales, he said.

The fisheries association president extended thanks to fishermen who helped with the cleanup and to all fishermen for taking steps, including larger bunches to reduce the likelihood of entanglement had any whales ventured into their fishing zone.

Preventative measures are important, he said, for the endangered whales and for the fishing community.

He noted recent sightings of right whales very close to where lobster fishermen set their gear. The international community is following the plight of a right whale that’s been swimming with fishing lines in tow in the Bay of Fundy recently.

“You want to relate it to something like potato wart or PVYn in the potato industry,” said Avery. “If you get a border shut, it’s something that takes years of international tribunals to get that opened up again. If you lose markets, you have to find them again.”

He believes member fishermen understand the serious consequences and don’t seem to mind taking the extra precautions.

He also commended the Island’s snow crab fleet for getting their quotas fished as quickly as possible so as to reduce the chances of entanglements.

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