The Canadian government is implementing a temporary mandatory slowdown for vessels of 20 metres or more in length to try to prevent more deaths of North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Vessels travelling in the western part of the gulf, from the Quebec north shore to just north of Prince Edward Island, are now required to reduce their speed to 10 knots, Minister of Transport Marc Garneau announced Friday at a news conference at the Pointe-du-Chêne Wharf in southeastern New Brunswick.
The slowdown takes effect immediately and will remain in place until the endangered whales migrate out of the areas of concern, likely in the fall, said Garneau, noting the borders of the restricted zone could change, depending on the migration patterns.
Vessels that don’t comply face a penalty of $6,000 to $25,000.
Marine industries were consulted on the temporary measure in the high-traffic area, which connects Central and Eastern Canada to international shipping markets.
“We found that by and large, there was a willingness,” he said.
The mandatory slowdown replaces a voluntary one the government requested last month.
The government will also ask ships under 20 metres in length to voluntarily slow down in the relevant area.
“We have a responsibility to ensure our wildlife and precious marine resources are protected for future generations,” Garneau said.
Ten North Atlantic right whales have died in the gulf since June 7. Two others have washed up dead in the Massachusetts area in recent weeks.
Only about 500 North Atlantic right whales are left in the world, according to fisheries officials.
Preliminary necropsy reports on some of the gulf deaths suggest ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement are possible causes. A final report is expected by mid-September, and will be made public.
“In the meantime, we are taking decisive steps to reduce the risks of other deaths in that area,” said Garneau.