Government of Canada introduces new, additional measures to protect the North Atlantic right whale

News release

July 8, 2019                Ottawa                Government of Canada

The well-being of the endangered North Atlantic right whale population is of great concern to Canadians and its protection is a significant priority for the Government of Canada.

Over the past two years, the Government of Canada has taken substantial measures to protect the North Atlantic right whale. However, recent deaths of these whales in Canadian waters are extremely troubling. On June 26, in response to these occurrences, the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau triggered the slowdown in the shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island, that require a vessel slowdown to 10 knots, on an interim precautionary basis. This speed restriction in the shipping lanes had previously been triggered only when North Atlantic right whales were observed in the lanes. Already in effect is the speed restriction introduced on April 28, 2019, in a large area in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where vessels 20 metres or longer are restricted to a maximum of 10 knots until November 15, 2019.

Today, Minister Marc Garneau, and the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, announced further measures to protect these iconic creatures. These additional measures include slowing down more ships in areas, increasing the zones in which speed restrictions will apply, increasing aerial surveillance, and funding for initiatives to enhance marine mammal response.

Specific additional measures include:

  1. Increasing surveillance conducted by both Transport Canada’s National Aerial Surveillance Program and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to triple the number of overflights. Since June 29, Transport Canada has increased flights from two a week to now up to two per day, or 14 flights per week weather permitting, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada has recently increased weekly flights from five to 10. This intense pace of surveillance coverage, which is now underway, will continue until at least July 15, and the results will be used to determine the plan for increased surveillance for the rest of the season, and any further measures required to protect the whales.
  2. Expanding the current slowdown zone further east. This includes an expansion of the current slowdown zone where vessels are required to travel at 10 knots throughout the season, and a new slowdown shipping lane where vessels will be required to slow down to 10 knots when a North Atlantic right whale is spotted in the area.
  3. Expanding the application of the mandatory speed restrictions to any vessel over 13 metres long. Previously, mandatory speed restrictions were only put in place for vessels 20 metres or longer.
  4. Dividing the mandatory slowdown zone into northern and southern zones so that, in the case of adverse weather conditions, for safety reasons, the mandatory speed limit would be temporarily lifted only in the affected zone (not the entire slowdown zone). In other words, temporarily increasing speed due to adverse weather conditions will only affect a smaller geographic area.
  5. Adjusting the trigger for fisheries closures so that if one or more right whale is observed anywhere in the Gulf of St Lawrence (including around Anticosti Island, the Cabot Strait, as well as the Straight of Belle-Isle) the area of the sighting will close for 15 days for non-tended fixed-gear fisheries. Major fixed-gear fisheries in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence were closed for the season on June 30, 2019. Although some fisheries remain open, the scale of fixed gear fishing activity will decrease significantly.
  6. Investing $1.2 million in 2019 as part of a $4.5 million commitment over four years to further enhance the Marine Mammal Response Program, which responds to marine mammals in distress, including disentanglement of North Atlantic right whales. This funding is part of the $167.4 million Whales Initiative in Budget 2018. 

  7. Providing new funding to further advance protection of the North Atlantic right whale. As part of the historic $1.3 billion Nature Legacy Initiative (Budget 2018), the Canada Nature Fund for Aquatic Species at Risk will be providing over $5 million over the next four years towards six projects to help safeguard these whales.

  8. Funding two additional projects under the Habitat Stewardship Program to mitigate risks and support conservation. In partnership with the Canadian Whale Institute, the Government of Canada is funding a project for monitoring and stewardship toward new and effective risk mitigation for right whales in Atlantic Canada.
  9. Expanding the slowdown buffer zone. When the interim precautionary slowdown is lifted in the shipping lanes, the buffer around the shipping lane will be doubled from 2.5 to 5 nautical miles. If a right whale is spotted in the buffer zone, the speed restrictions in the shipping lane will be triggered.

These new measures will be in effect as of 12:01 a.m., July 9, 2019. The interim precautionary speed limit in the slowdown shipping lanes that was announced and implemented on June 26, will continue until at least July 15, so the information from the intense surveillance period can be assessed before determining if a return to the normal protection measure whereby vessels will be able to transit in designated shipping lanes at normal operating speeds unless a right whale is spotted in one of these lanes (or the buffer areas around them), which will trigger the slowdown for a 15-day period is warranted.

Because the North Atlantic right whales cross international waters, we will be seeking to meet with our United States counterparts to explore the implementation of joint measures to address risks faced by the whales.

This is the third consecutive year that the Government of Canada has implemented measures to help protect North Atlantic right whales:

Additional multimedia

Figure – Map of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence with additional measures to protect the North Atlantic Right whales. The mandatory slowdown zone has been divided into northern and southern zones; and the current slowdown zone has been expanded further east, beyond the Magdalen Islands and closer to Cabot Strait.


“Given the very unfortunate recent deaths of North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, of which three deaths have been preliminarily attributed to vessel strikes, my department is implementing new measures to further protect North Atlantic right whales. These measures build on those I had recently announced. The Government of Canada remains committed to taking every action necessary to help protect this important species including those initiatives contained in the Oceans Protection Plan and the Whales Initiative.”

The Honourable Marc Garneau 
Minister of Transport

“With the tragic loss of six North Atlantic right whales this year, our government is implementing urgent new measures and is taking additional actions to further protect this iconic and endangered species. These new measures build on existing measures developed and implemented over the past two years. We are committed to moving forward swiftly to enhance protection for the North Atlantic right whales.”

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

Quick facts

  • 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 implemented in close collaboration with Indigenous Peoples, and coastal communities.

  • 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 North Atlantic right whale, the Southern Resident killer whale, and the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga. This includes funding for science activities to help better understand factors affecting the well-being of whale populations, as well as actions to help address the threats arising from human activities.

  • 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.

  • Through the Canada Nature Fund, federal investments have been made in projects that will support the protection of North Atlantic right whale in Canadian waters, including:

    • In partnership with Merinov and other partners, a project in zones 12 and 16 of snow crab fisheries to reduce the chances of entanglement and bycatch caused by ghost gear.
    • In partnership with the Canadian Wildlife Federation and other partners, a project in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Bay of Fundy, and Scotian Shelf region to reduce mortality and serious injury to marine species-at-risk from entanglement in fishing gear.
    • In partnership with the Quebec-Labrador Foundation and other partners, a project to reduce threats caused by fishing interactions in Newfoundland waters, including actions to reduce the volume of plastic debris entering the marine ecosystem.
    • In partnership with JASCO Applied Science and other partners, a project to reduce ocean noise to develop tools and solutions for understanding and mitigating impacts on marine life in in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Bay of Fundy, and Scotian Shelf.
    • In partnership with LGL Limited and other partners, a project to deploy and test an infrared (IR) camera system on a seismic vessel offshore Newfoundland and Labrador to determine how effective the IR-camera system is at detecting marine mammals within and beyond the 500 m Safety Zone in environmental conditions of the North West Atlantic.
    • In partnership with Homarus Inc. and other partners, a project in snow crab zone 12 aims to reduce entanglement by reducing the amount of rope in the water and detect and develop methods to retrieve ghost gear.

Associated links


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

Media Relations
Transport Canada

Marie-Pascale Des Rosiers    
Director of Communications     
Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans  
and the Canadian Coast Guard     

Media Relations
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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