Government of Canada unveils its 2019 plan for protecting North Atlantic right whales

News release

MP Serge Cormier, Minister Wilkinson and Minister Garneau
Ministers Wilkinson and Garneau during an announcement on North Atlantic Right Whale protection measures held in Shippagan, New Brunswick. To the left, Serge Cormier, MP for Acadie-Bathurst.

February 7, 2019
Shippagan, New Brunswick
Government of Canada

Over the past two years, the Government of Canada has put in place measures to protect North Atlantic right whales. We continue our commitment toward protecting our endangered whales, and strengthening the economy.

Today the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, along with the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau and Member of Parliament for Acadie—Bathurst, Serge Cormier, announced how the Government of Canada will protect the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale during the 2019 season, while sustaining and growing the ocean economy that so many Eastern Canadians rely on.

The North Atlantic right whale faces two key threats: vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.

The advanced measures being announced today build off a successful 2018 season where not one North Atlantic right whale died in Canadian waters.

In developing these advanced measures, Government of Canada officials met with harvesters, shippers, Indigenous leaders, environmental organizations and other stakeholders to ensure we appropriately reflected on the 2018 experiences and looked to ensure the integrity of whale protection initiatives while also being as sensitive as possible to important economic interests.

In addition, five calves have been recently spotted in U.S. waters. An encouraging sign for this  endangered species.

To reduce the probability of vessel strikes the Government is:

  • Re-introducing a mandatory speed restriction for vessels 20 metres or longer to a maximum of 10 knots when travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence starting on April 28.
  • Continuing to allow vessels to travel at safe operational speeds in parts of two shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island when no North Atlantic right whales are spotted in the area.
  • Adjusting the areas where the mandatory speed restriction applies to reflect North Atlantic right whale sightings to minimize impacts on the cruise ship industry and on community resupply.

To address the possibility of entanglements in fishing gear the Government is:

  • Adjusting the area closed to snow crab, lobster fisheries and all other non-tended fixed-gear fisheries in Atlantic Canada and Quebec to include the area where 90% of the North Atlantic Right Whale were sighted last year during the prime fishing season. This area is a little less than half the size it was in 2018  and is more elongated North-to-South than in 2018.
  • Keeping the overall protection area the same in terms of the combined season-long closure area and the area where temporary 15-day closures may occur for snow crab, lobster fisheries and all other non-tended fixed-gear fisheries following a sighting of one or more right whales.
  • Adjusting the protocol for temporary closures to include provisions for sightings of right whales in shallow waters less than 20 fathoms (approximately 36.5 metres deep). A 15-day closure will be triggered in waters less than 20 fathoms only if one or more right whales are spotted in shallow waters.

As noted, these advanced measures were not developed by the Government of Canada alone. The consultation with harvesters, communities, Indigenous leaders and industry was extensive. This includes what has been shared over the past months in regional meetings through Quebec and Atlantic Canada and a pan-Atlantic roundtable in Dartmouth with partners in October 2018 as well as new scientific advice resulting from the November CSAS process.

Similar to last year, the Government will continue to monitor for  North Atlantic right whales and work with harvesters to minimize the amount of rope in the water, track rope and buoys, and to improve reporting of lost gear.

In 2018, aircraft under control of the Canadian Government logged over 2,075 hours in the air to track these endangered whales and to enforce fisheries closures. This is in addition to monitoring carried out by our U.S. partners. As a result, the Government has an additional year of scientific data that expanded our knowledge of the North Atlantic right whale. Many partnerships were also formed with environmental organizations, communities, universities, scientists, and harvesters and we thank all of our partners for their hard work and collaboration.

Finally, we continue to support industry trials of innovative fishing technologies and methods to prevent and mitigate whale entanglement. Fisheries and Oceans Canada will host a Gear Innovation Summit later this year, which will focus on technological solutions to reduce risk to whales as well as solutions to reduce or eliminate ghost gear. Ghost gear refers to any fishing equipment or fishing-related litter that has been abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded and is some of the most harmful and deadly debris found in oceans.

These measures complement the existing recovery efforts of the Species at Risk Act which include the North Atlantic Right Whale Recovery Strategy and Action Plan, as well as requirements pursuant to the Marine Mammal Regulations.

The Government is confident that these advanced measures will strengthen protections for the North Atlantic right whales, and we are committed to doing everything we can to help ensure the survival of the species and rebuilding of this endangered population.


“Last year, no North Atlantic right whale died in Canadian waters. This success was due in part to the Government of Canada’s swift action, strong partnerships and industry compliance. With an additional year of science and consultations, the advanced measures announced today will strengthen protection for the endangered North Atlantic right whale, while also sustaining and growing the ocean economy that so many Canadians rely on.”

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

‘‘Once again, the Government of Canada and the marine industry are working together to ensure safe navigation and avoid collisions with North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I want to thank our partners for continuing to work with us, especially on important measures like the one announced today. The mandatory speed restriction will help save this iconic species.’’

The Honourable Marc Garneau
Minister of Transport

 “As the Member of Parliament for Acadie-Bathurst, I want to sincerely thank and acknowledge all of the hard work and cooperation of our fishing industry and of the many people in our communities who have worked so collaboratively over the past year. Through your collective efforts we are ensuring that we have the most robust and balanced fishing practices that not only protect iconic species, like the North Atlantic Right Whale, but also allow for a safe and sustainable fishery.

Member of Parliament for Acadie—Bathurst, Serge Cormier

“Thanks to last year’s good results achieved because of these protection measures, data collection and through consultations with concerned groups, we now have better tools to continue protecting right whales in a way that also respects our main industries including fishing and tourism.”

The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier
Minister of National Revenue and Member of Parliament for Gaspésie—Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine

Quick facts

  • The Government of Canada's Budget 2018 included $167.4 million over five years to help protect and recover endangered whale species in Canada, notably the Southern Resident killer whale, the North Atlantic right whale and the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga. This includes funding for science activities to help better understand factors affecting the health of whale populations, as well as actions to help address the threats arising from human activities.

  • In 2017, 12 North Atlantic right whales died in Canadian waters. The global population was estimated in 2018 to be approximately 411 animals with no more than a quarter being females of breeding age.

  • A complex mix of threats-such as vessel collisions, gear entanglements, availability of prey, increased noise levels, and pollution in the water-are impacting many whale populations, notably the North Atlantic right whale, the Southern Resident killer whale, and the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga.

  • The $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan is the largest investment ever made to protect Canada's coasts and waterways. This national strategy is creating a world-leading marine safety system that provides economic opportunities for Canadians today, while protecting our coastlines and clean water for generations to come. The strategy is being developed in close collaboration with Indigenous peoples, local stakeholders and coastal communities.

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For more information:

Jocelyn Lubczuk 
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Media Relations
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Delphine Denis
Press Secretary
Office of the Honourable Marc Garneau
Minister of Transport, Ottawa

Media Relations
Transport Canada

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