November 26, 2009 09:12 ET

Lobster Fishermen Testing New Measures for Right Whale Conservation

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA--(Marketwire - Nov. 26, 2009) - Lobster fishing season opens on Monday, and for the first time fishermen in southwest Nova Scotia will be using voluntary practices to reduce the chance of endangered right whales from becoming entangled in fishing gear.

Only 400 North Atlantic right whales remain, making them one of the most endangered large whales on the planet. The biggest threat to their survival is ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.

Shipping lanes in Canada have already been moved to minimize contact with the whales, and for the past year and a half, lobster fishermen in Lobster Fishing Areas (LFA) 33 and 34 have worked with WWF-Canada to develop solutions to limit the entanglement threat.

"Fishermen developed a plan to change fishing practices in a way that demonstrates leadership, commitment to conservation, and a significant first step towards reducing this threat to the endangered North Atlantic right whale", said Dr. Robert Rangeley, Vice-President Atlantic Region, WWF-Canada. "It is an exciting example of collaboration and action which we hope provides a positive lesson of the benefits of integrated management for all ocean industries."

Previously when lobster fishermen were setting their trawls (series of traps), there were no guidelines on the amount of rope they used or the manner in which they set their traps. This plan attempts to keep rope out of the path of whales by specifying maximum rope lengths and optimal setting practices that keep ropes low and tight.

"Fishermen are often negatively portrayed when animals, particularly whales, become entangled in fishing gear", said Ashton Spinney, Industry Co-Chair of the LFA 34 Advisory Committee. "These rare and unfortunate situations are never intentional and no fisherman wants to see whales harmed."

In June, all of the port representatives in LFA 33 and 34 agreed, on behalf of their fishermen, to take this first step and adopt voluntary standard practices for lobster fishing. They also agreed to take further action in the future on reducing this threat as knowledge about entanglements improves.

"Fishermen always try to use the least amount of rope possible when setting trawls. None-the-less, fishermen want to show that they take this problem seriously and want to do more to reduce the threat to the right whale", said Paddy Gray, Industry Co-Chair of the LFA 33 Advisory Committee. "We encourage all our fishermen to follow them as much as possible when setting their gear."

"This is a great step towards minimizing threats and giving right whales a chance of recovery", said Rangeley. "More work is necessary to better understand the problem and the effectiveness of solutions that will ensure recovery of this magnificent species."

About WWF-Canada

WWF-Canada is part of WWF, the world's largest conservation organization. At WWF we advocate and promote lasting solutions to the challenge of balancing growing human need and environmental sustainability. In collaboration with business, government, communities and individuals we take a science-based approach to the protection, management and restoration of environmentally sensitive parts of our planet. Our work includes visionary projects focused on climate change, freshwater and the health of habitat and species across Canada and around the world. For more information about WWF-Canada visit wwf.ca.

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