Reducing Bycatch of North Atlantic Right Whales
North America > North America > Canada
North Atlantic right whales are one of the most endangered large whale species on Earth. Entanglement in fishing gear is one of the greatest threats to their survival.
The key to eliminating this threat lies with fishermen. However, more information and better alternatives to current gear and fishing practices are required in order to implement solutions. The project is intended to reduce gear threats to the right whale without unduly compromising fishing industries.
The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered large whales in the world. With less than 400 individuals left in the population, this species is on the brink of extinction.
Despite over 70 years of protection from whaling, the population has shown no signs of recovery. Since the right whale is found in coastal habitats, it is more likely to suffer from the impacts of human activity. The main causes of death for right whales are collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear. With such a small and slow-growing population, any threatening factor has a significant impact.
In order to bring right whales back from the brink of extinction, WWF Canada has been working with partners for over 10 years to implement research-based initiatives aimed at reducing the impact of human activities, specifically collisions with vessels and entanglement in fishing gear, on right whales.
This collaborative effort has led to significant results, especially in reducing the risk of vessel collisions. In 2003, WWF’s strategic guidance supported the International Maritime Organization’s landmark decision to shift shipping lanes away from the right whale’s summer feeding grounds in the Bay of Fundy.
WWF Canada’s work shows that, with the right partners and the right research, it is possible to make waters safer for right whales.
Despite real progress in addressing ship strikes as a major cause of mortality, the more prolific threat of entanglement in fishing gear remains, and continues to pose serious risk for the recovery of this critically endangered species.
By 2010, the risk of entanglement in fishing gear for the North Atlantic right whale in the Grand Manan and Roseway Basin conservation areas is reduced by 80% and significantly reduced elsewhere in the North West Atlantic Ecoregion (NWAE).
It is acknowledged that with creativity, research, and open communication, these casualties can be avoided. Reducing the risk of entanglement in fishing gear is now the top priority for right whale recovery.
One of the most effective ways to eliminate entanglements is to develop smart fishing gear and practices, which merge economic success with conservation goals. By working with fishermen and scientists, effective solutions to reduce right whale entanglements can be identified. Comprehensive research will show where these solutions should be implemented without unduly compromising the economic viability of fisheries.
WWF-Canada is currently working with fishermen and fishing organizations in the Bay of Fundy and Southwestern Nova Scotia as well as government, scientists and other non-government organizations to identify and implement solutions that will reduce whale entanglements. WWF Canada recognized that if progress is to be made on reducing the entanglement of whales, then fishermen have to lead the effort.
Over the next year, WWF Canada and other partners will continue to support fishermen as they work together to find solutions.
With support from WWF, fishermen from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada met in February 2008. The goal was to discuss ways to reduce whale entanglements, focusing specifically the technical aspects of fishing.
Fishermen participating at this event developed a list of potential solutions that can be categorized as gear configurations, means of avoiding whales and flexible timing of fishing seasons. The next step in this process includes encouraging additional input from other fishermen in the region, and a thorough evaluation of the potential benefits of each of the ideas.
WWF and their partners are very encouraged by the participation of Canadian fishermen on this issue and anticipate these strong partnerships will lead to the development of a plan from the fishing industry to address right whale entanglements in Canada.