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U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act regulations could impact Canadian fishers

North Atlantic Right Whales.
Jessica Taylor/New England Aquarium photo.
North Atlantic Right Whales. Jessica Taylor/New England Aquarium photo. - Contributed

New rules will require more monitoring of fishing activity


While there were no active harvesters at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) public meeting on Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Clarenville Inn, the resource managers still discussed two topics which will affect fishers in the future — the United States’ marine mammal protection act and potential fishery monitoring policies.

DFO resource manager Jackie Kean explained the United States Marine Mammal Protection Act is nothing new, it’s been around since the 1970s.

However, a recent ruling made clear that all countries who export to the U.S.A. must meet their requirements for marine mammal bycatch while fishing various species in local waters.

“We’ve got to work with harvesters to make sure we can meet standards by 2022,” Kean told The Packet last week.

The final report to meet these standards is due in March 2021, with progress reports due each year until then; the next progress report is due this July.

As Canada sends a significant amount of exports to the States, primarily snow crab and lobster, this could greatly affect fishers in Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, Kean explained there are many steps fishers can take to show the U.S. they are already taking proper measures to protect marine mammals.

The DFO just needs to collect the data to ensure it’s included in the reports that are due each year.

The bycatch of the marine mammals refers to accidental mortality or serious injury of sea mammals while harvesters are fishing other species.

Kean explained the marine mammals which would be of most importance are the species of lowest population. Seals, for example, with their typically high populations will not raise any red flags in this bycatch regulation for the U.S.

An example of a species which is of great concern under these regulations is the North Atlantic Right Whale.

With only 430 of these mammals left in the world, fishing areas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence near Nova Scotia have already seen both static closures for fishing grounds, as well as temporary grid closures in other areas.

There were 12 right whale deaths between June 7 and Sept. 15, 2017 in the Gulf.

For most harvesters in Newfoundland in Labrador, however, Kean says they shouldn’t need to fear area closures, as the right whale is much less common in many of the fishing sectors of the province.

There will always be a bycatch, as sometimes some of these animals are difficult to avoid in a boat.

Kean reminds all harvesters and other boat operators there is a marine mammal response program in the province, to deal with situations when marine mammals become entangled or trapped in fishing gear.

He said one of the best tools for ensuring there are no export sanctions or other penalties incurred as a result of the marine mammal bycatch, is data collection and presentation.

Kean says they are able to take things they already know about the fishery and use that to make sure each type of fishery in different locations is exempt from these standards.

For example, for the purse seine capelin fishery, they can show that fishers would never intentionally trap a marine mammal with their gear.

Kean also added that monitoring by way of log books and interviews, which is already going on in the large majority of fisheries, will be vital. Harvesters are already required to report any incidents with marine mammals such as whales, and by continuing to provide that information, they are doing due diligence to prevent a marine mammal bycatch.

Kean summed up, through this approach, they’re “in a good place.”

They will continue to provide lists of fisheries and whether they are on the export or exempt list as well as providing further reports before the final application in 2021.

“Bottom line: this is being enforced by the United States, and we want to work with fish harvesters to make sure we can meet these requirements,” said Kean.

DFO also talks fishery monitoring

Resource manager Ellen Careen was also in Clarenville to discuss the draft policy on fishery monitoring.

Careen says regarding marine mammal bycatch, the fishery monitoring national policy discussion, as part of the sustainable fisheries framework, is about identifying the validity of data collected.

“This is not a ‘camera policy,’” Careen stressed, although adding that cameras could be considered as monitoring tools.

She added there are inconsistencies among current monitoring methods for different fisheries. As an example, she says the sea urchin fishery doesn’t use log books; monitoring comes solely from purchase slip records.

Careen says one of the main concerns she’s heard from fishers is around the costs associated with monitoring.

While the official consultation period has closed for comment, Careen encouraged any harvesters with concerns to share their thoughts with the DFO.

Twitter: @jejparsons

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