St. Lawrence group urges long-term solution to whales concern

North American right whales are highly endangered North American right whales are highly endangered (Photo: NOAA)

Cruise the Saint Lawrence is calling for a long-term solution to protect the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale that avoids economic impact on communities and cruise lines resulting from a recently mandated 10-knot speed cap.

About a dozen cruise calls have been dropped and others abbreviated or changed in Canada/New England during the early days since the speed restriction was put in place across a wide swath of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A number of cruise lines are weighing their options for this and future seasons.

Evaluating the potential impact on the nine ports of Cruise the Saint Lawrence, René Trépanier, executive director, expressed concern. These destinations have made huge investments to improve their infrastructure and tourism offerings to grow the international cruise business and may stand to lose out just as things are taking off.

'We might lose calls. We might lose money. We are very worried,' Trépanier said. For example, there could be a $1.5m impact on Gaspé alone.

According to Capt. Thomas Hinderhofer, director, Northeast port operations, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., it's tough to know the impact on the cruise industry. 'This is a very fluid situation, which we hope will take a certain direction soon,' he said. 

 A conference call update Wednesday involving Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada, the Coast Guard, ship operators and a wide range of other stakeholders provided little new information since last week's call. An aerial survey of the whales' movements is being pursued.

Trépanier said the speed restriction zone may be too large. It stretches from the western Gulf from Québec's north shore to just north of Prince Edward Island.

The cap, introduced on short notice earlier this month, is being rigorously enforced. Trépanier said 30 to 35 ships of various types—cargo and passenger—have been cited for speeds even a fraction higher than 10 knots, most less than 11 knots. No fines have been issued.

'It's likely the whales will be back next year so can we do something else?' Trépanier said. 'This is an opportunity to invest in research to protect these whales and work with different marine transport companies to see about a global surveillance program.

'We are trying to find solutions. Cruise lines are planning [their itineraries] two years in advance. It can't be a short-term solution,' Trépanier stressed.

Posted 23 August 2017

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Anne Kalosh

US editor of Seatrade Cruise Review and Seatrade Cruise News

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