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Normal speeds restored in Gulf of St. Lawrence shipping lanes

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With no North Atlantic right whales spotted in the shipping lanes over the past month, the additional 10-knot speed cap zones in the Gulf of St. Lawrence instituted earlier this summer have been removed, for now.

No whales spotted

'After a period of intense aerial surveillance and a mandatory slowdown, I can report that no North Atlantic right whales have been spotted in the shipping lanes — areas vital to our marine transportation industry,' Transport Minister Marc Garneau said. 'Although we are allowing vessels to transit at safe operating speeds in the designated shipping lanes, if even one North Atlantic right whale is spotted, we will immediately implement another slowdown.'

Over the past month, Transport Canada greatly intensified surveillance, with 240 flight hours over 44 missions — more than one a day. Not one North Atlantic right whale was seen in the shipping lanes. As such, vessels are once again allowed to proceed at safe operational speeds in the lanes. Enhanced surveillance will continue, and slowdown measures will be implemented should a whale be detected.

Heightened protections

In response to recent deaths of the highly endangered North Atlantic right whales, the Canadian government implemented an interim mandatory slowdown in the shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island on June 26, with additional measures on July 8, such as increasing the areas for slowdowns, slowing more ships, increasing the buffer zones in which speed restrictions apply and increased aerial surveillance.

These measures were on top of those implemented on April 28, which included a large slowdown area throughout much of the Gulf.

Transport Canada said that during the expanded slowdown period, because the speed limit was the same throughout the Gulf, vessels were observed using more direct routes to transit through the area instead of sticking to the shipping lanes. This resulted in more marine traffic coming closer to known whale locations.

With safe operational speed limits in the shipping lanes, vessels will be encouraged to take routes further away from the whales.

Marine traffic has been highly compliant

Marine traffic has been highly compliant with the whale protection measures, however Transport Canada continues to examine all reported cases of noncompliance. This year, three fines have been issued. Fines range from $6,000 to $25,000, depending on the severity of the infraction and repeated offences.

Dynamic management

Early this year, Cruise the Saint Lawrence carried out an awareness campaign to inform cruise planners of Transport Canada's dynamic management policy, adopted in 2018. This created 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.