Industry welcomes new right whale protection strategy in Gulf of St. Lawrence

The 10-knot speed cap applies in the pink area, however, ships will be allowed to travel at normal speeds in the two shipping lanes highlighted in green when no whales are observed The 10-knot speed cap applies in the pink area, however, ships will be allowed to travel at normal speeds in the two shipping lanes highlighted in green when no whales are observed (Graphic: Transport Canada)

Canada has developed a more nuanced approach to protecting North Atlantic right whales from vessel strikes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

2018 sees a fixed speed restriction in a large area of the Gulf where the whales aggregated in 2017 and a dynamic management approach for the shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island where temporary mandatory speed caps will be activated should a right whale be observed.

When shaping its new policy the federal government took into consideration proposals from an industry working group that included, among others, scientists and two cruise line representatives.

'We are happy with the measures announced this morning and hope to maintain this collaboration of the working group and the governmental authorities on a regular basis,' said René Trépanier, executive director of Cruise the Saint Lawrence, which represents nine ports.

The 2018 plan gives short-term relief for Gaspé and some other ports, Trépanier told Seatrade Cruise News, but it remains to be seen how the cruise lines will react. Ports hope operators will adapt their schedules and maintain their bookings.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s Capt. Thomas Hinderhofer, director, North East port operations, Cape Liberty Cruise Port, who served on the working group, said he's pleased there is a strategy in place that can be used as the benchmark for action. Based on last year's mandatory slowdowns in the region, Hinderhofer said the company will look at the worst-case scenarios concerning the speed cap when itinerary planning and 'work toward solutions that will best protect the whales and best serve our guests.'

Last year a speed cap imposed on short notice in mid-August caused considerable impact on the cruise industry heading into the peak period of the Canada/New England cruise season.
 
This year operators have more advance notice, and ships will be allowed to travel at normal speeds in specific areas provided no right whales are present. The Shipping Federation of Canada hailed the new policy as a 'first step towards a dynamic management approach in the Gulf,' adding it looks forward to pursuing efforts with Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans and the regional science community to efficiently implement these measures and to further refine the approach to dynamic mitigation measures beyond 2018.
 
This year's 10-knot speed restriction will be in force (in the area highlighted in pink on the chart) from April 28 until Nov. 15, depending on the right whales' migration. The speed cap zone may be changed as whales migrate through the area.
 
Canada will allow ships to travel at normal speeds when no right whales are in the two shipping lanes highlighted in green, north and south of Anticosti Island. A 15-day mandatory slowdown of 10 knots will be activated within a section of the shipping lanes when one right whale is spotted, and can be extended as needed.
 
If right whales are not seen during the last two aerial surveillance flights during the 15-day period, the slowdown will be lifted at the end of the period.
 
Should it not be possible to conduct aerial surveillance for a week, Transport Canada will implement a mandatory slowdown. This slowdown will apply to the shipping lane(s) until two surveillance flights confirm no right whales are present.
 
Ships failing to comply with the speed restriction face fines ranging from $6,000 to $25,000.
 
Vessel data provided by the Canadian Coast Guard will help Transport Canada check for compliance.
 
Posted 28 March 2018

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Anne Kalosh

Editor, Seatrade Cruise News & Senior Associate Editor Seatrade Cruise Review