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Two-day Halifax fishing gear summit aims to reduce right whale entanglement


A North Atlantic right whale is tangled in fishing rope in the Atlantic Ocean. DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard have completed Operation Ghost, a mission to search for and retrieve lost fishing gear in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. - Center for Coastal Studies
A North Atlantic right whale is tangled in fishing rope in the Atlantic Ocean. DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard have completed Operation Ghost, a mission to search for and retrieve lost fishing gear in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. - Center for Coastal Studies - Contributed

Fish harvesters, fishing gear manufacturers, marine mammal responders, environmental organizations and government officials from Canada, the United States, Iceland, and Norway are gathering in Halifax this week with one common goal: to save the whales.

A total of 250 stakeholders will participate in the two-day summit, which kicked off on Tuesday. It will include panel discussions, exhibits, and other programming that focuses on reducing fishing gear interactions with marine mammals — especially the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

Entanglements with fishing nets and other gear are considered one of the leading causes of right whale deaths in recent years.

This seal tangled up in a stray fishing net was eventually freed, but "ghost gear" spells an unfortunate end for most of the wildlife it entangles.- Ian Dyball
This seal tangled up in a stray fishing net was eventually freed, but "ghost gear" spells an unfortunate end for most of the wildlife it entangles.- Ian Dyball
Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan.
Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan.

Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said Ottawa decided to hold the conference after hearing for some time that these different groups wanted to get together and discuss gear interactions and entanglement.

“You've got the harvesters, the fishers, the industry. You have science. You have levels of government. You have manufactures all here. Because we all have the same goals,” the Nova Scotia MP said.

“Although it’s a tough change, people really want to see us protecting the whales.”

Jordan said there’s a misconception that the fishing industry is resistant to changes aimed at protecting marine species. It's quite the contrary, she said, adding the fishing industry is leading the charge.

“They're the ones who are coming up with some of the most innovative ideas because they want to make sure they can continue to fish and, in order to do that, they know that this is what's going to have to happen."

News coming soon

Over the last year, the department has been working on industry-led pilot projects to test new gear technologies, such as ropeless gear which could reduce the amount of rope in the water and subsequently lower the risk of whale entanglements.

Jordan noted there will be some news coming on measures to protect marine mammals in the coming weeks, but she didn’t give specifics.

There have also been several federal efforts in recent years to mitigate some of these risks, including a three-day ghost gear retrieval operation in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in July known as Operation Ghost.

That initiative recovered more than 100 snow crab traps and over nine kilometres of rope.

Following the Halifax meetings, which wrap up Wednesday, Jordan said there will be a discussion about the next steps and whether or not the summit will become a regular occurrence.

“I will tell you that today we're getting very positive feedback from a lot of the participants,” she said.

“This is not just the government saying, 'This is what you have to do.’ This is listening. This is finding out what the challenges are and this is finding out the best way forward from the people who are directly involved on the ground or on the water.”

Jordan is also expected to announce Wednesday support for three projects that, according to her office, “will contribute to the sustainability and viability of our oceans.”

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