Whale Slow Down Rule Costing Time and Money

North Atlantic right whale

Published Sep 18, 2017 6:41 PM by The Maritime Executive

Last week, Transport Canada issued a $6,000 penalty to the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir William Alexander for allegedly not slowing down in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. It was the third such fine issued as the local maritime industry comes to terms with a new regulation designed to protect the North Atlantic Right Whale. 

On August 11, 2017, Transport Canada implemented a temporary mandatory slow down of vessels 20 meters (66 feet) or more to a maximum of 10 knots as a result of recent whale strike incidents. The speed restriction applies to vessels traveling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence, between the Quebec north shore and just north of Prince Edward Island.

Transport Canada has also issued a $6,000 fine to the vessels Petalon and the Seven Seas Navigator.

North Atlantic right whales are a migratory species that frequents Atlantic Ocean coastal waters. The species is listed under the federal Species at Risk Act as endangered, and there are approximately 500 left in the world. The whale is a slow swimmer, averaging about four knots. Collisions with vessels, entanglement in fishing gear and underwater noise are the most serious threats to the population.

The presence of right whales in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence this year is unprecedented, says Transport Canada. Since June there have been 10 confirmed right whale deaths in the Gulf of St. Lawrence region  and three deaths in the United States. The annual average mortality rate in Canada and the U.S. combined is 3.8 per year, and Transport Canada says these recent deaths represent a significant threat to the recovery of the population.

Cruise Industry Compliance Options

Cruise the Saint Lawrence has stated that it understands and supports the slow down measures, but notes that it is set to impact considerably international cruise industry results across the greater Canada New England region this year. To date, 16 cancellations have been confirmed for three Saint Lawrence ports of call, the one most seriously affected being Gaspé.

In preparation for the upcoming season, Cruise the Saint Lawrence would like to see the measure imposed by Transport Canada subjected to in-depth analysis at the close of the current season to be poised to implement, within a reasonable timeframe, an intervention strategy for 2018.

“Most unfortunately, many cruise lines have been obligated to alter their itineraries to honor their scheduled date of arrival at final destination. They are the first to regret being forced to cut short or delete altogether certain calls and would appreciate more detailed information to be able to organize their itineraries in the best interests of guests and ports of call in the years ahead,” explains Tony Boemi, President of Cruise the Saint Lawrence.

The organization is therefore taking an active part in discussions currently engaged with government authorities and industry partners to find solutions intended to reconcile tourism industry economic interests with species-specific protection measures.

“The presence of North Atlantic right whales is an indication of the rich habitat provided by the waters of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, and it is a privilege for tourism industry players such as ourselves to share these waters with them. We believe that the cruise industry can prosper and serve as a model of conservation if all players are consulted and involved,” says Boemi.

A case in point is Alaska where a simple but effective conservation measure has been introduced. This measure involves posting observers on the prow to spot marine mammals and modify, as required, the speed or course of a ship. In Québec, the Marine Mammal Observation Network (ROMM), in cooperation with Green Marine, could play a key role in drawing up solutions together with marine industry players. A similar whale observation training program intended for the crew of merchant and passengers ships is already in place on the Saint Lawrence.