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More regular-speed areas in St. Lawrence right whale protection zone

Gulf of St Lawrence speed restriction area
The new Gulf of St. Lawrence speed restriction area is in red and the dynamic navigation sectors are in green MAP: Transport Canada
Canada's measures for protecting the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale from ship strikes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence have been fine-tuned, following consultation with industry and based on scientific data.

In a new ship safety bulletin, Transport Canada removed the southeast corner of the speed restriction zone, around the Magdalen Islands. And to help reduce impacts on the shipping industry, vessels will be allowed — in the absence of right whale sightings — to travel at safe speeds in a larger area north of Anticosti Island, extending to the mainland.

Good news for cruise operations

These measures are a 'good step forward' to protect the North Atlantic right whale and 'should diminish the economic impacts for the cruise industry,' René Trépanier, executive director, Cruise the Saint Lawrence and co-chair, Cruise Canada/New England, told Seatrade Cruise News.

'The problem is that some cruise lines do not want to take any risk and plan their itineraries as if the dynamic sectors were always limited to 10 knots, which was not the case,' he added, pointing out that 'more than 80% of the time last year ships could go at regular speed' and this should increase in 2019.

'The southeast corner of the speed restriction zone used to touch the Magdalen Islands. This has been reduced and now it opens a channel to navigate at regular speed between Prince Edward Island and the dynamic sectors,' Trépanier noted.

Dynamic management

Over decades, hunting, entanglement in fishing gear and ship strikes have diminished the North Atlantic right whale to fewer than 500. Last year measures were put in place to create a fixed 10-knot speed restriction in a large area of the Gulf with two navigation channels north and south of Anticosti Island where ships can travel at normal speed, unless right whales are spotted there. In that case, temporary mandatory speed caps are put in place.

Issued this month, Transport Canada's Marine Safety Directorate Bulletin No.: 07/2019 further fine-tuned the measures.

Plushy power

As earlier reported, to raise awareness, Cruise the Saint Lawrence mailed itinerary planners a plush, Mamie Allright, accompanied by a cartoon that conveyed a serious but encouraging message about the right whale. This was amplified during meetings at Seatrade Cruise Global and with a full-spread message in the latest issue of Seatrade Cruise Review.

'Our plushies campaign has helped,' Trépanier said. 'Our meetings with some cruise line representatives reminded them they should not cancel major ports and deal with a little risk for the benefit of their passengers to not miss fabulous ports, and also for the benefit of the destinations.

When a cruise line executives tell Trépanier they cannot take any risk of speed restrictions leading to a missed call, he reminds them 'we also took the risk of investing hundreds of millions of dollars to develop our destination, this is a risk as well.

'So before canceling ports, please consider the impact on small communities,' Trépanier said.