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Right whale deaths impacting lobster fishery

The P.E.I. government should make sure there is a contingency plan in place if right whales cause problems with the lobster fishery this season, says Souris-Elmira MLA Colin LaVie.

Speaking to the media Thursday, LaVie, who is also a lobster fisherman, said he had concerns about some areas being closed for long stretches if whales are spotted.

“The right whales (have) got to be protected, and we understand that. I just want something in place in case the fishery is shut down,” he said.

A string of right whale deaths in the region last year led the federal government to bring in new rules for snow crab fishermen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The federal government announced earlier this week that those rules will also be in place for lobster fishermen when the season opens next week.

LaVie directed his concerns to provincial Fisheries Minister Robert Henderson about a new rule from the federal government that would force fishermen to leave an area for a period of time if a right whale is spotted.

Those fishermen would be able to fish in other areas until the closure is lifted after a minimum of 15 days.

LaVie said because a lot of people’s jobs depend on the lobster fishery it’s more than just fishermen who would be affected if any areas end up being shut down.

“They have to feed their families, they need their weeks and we just need to make sure that the minister has a plan in place if something happens,” he said.

Henderson told the media the federal government is dividing fishing areas into quadrants, but there aren’t many of them where Islanders would fish.

“Not normally right whale territory, but it’s starting to (in)fringe upon that right whale territory,” he said.

As part of the new rules, fishermen are also required to report any sightings of right whales.

Henderson said there are industry implications if right whales die, such as the loss in March of the snow crab fishery’s designation as an environmentally sustainable industry.

“We have to watch this pretty closely and make sure there’s no unintended consequences to whales by whatever the particular fishery would be,” he said.

As for a contingency plan, Henderson said the provincial government doesn’t have one, but he added that an area getting closed off doesn’t mean fishermen can’t fish somewhere else.

“We don’t want to make undo panic here that everything is going to be shut down. That’s probably not realistic,” he said.

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