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What we heard report

A summary of comments from the Ministerial Roundtable on North Atlantic Right Whales


During summer 2017, an unprecedented 12 NARW died in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Full necropsies were carried out on seven of the whales, while sampling was done on several others. The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative produced a joint report with the Marine Animal Response Society (MARS) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) which confirmed that vessel collisions and fishing gear entanglement were the primary factors involved in the NARW mortalities observed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in summer 2017.

Throughout summer 2017, the Government of Canada worked with experts, industry, environmental groups, and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to understand and mitigate the unprecedented NARW deaths. DFO implemented urgent measures to help protect the NARW in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, shutting down the snow crab fishery in the area to minimize NARW entanglements in fishing gear and implementing a slowdown on certain vessels to avoid collisions with NARW.

In November 2016, the Government of Canada introduced the Oceans Protection Plan (OPP), a historic, $1.5-billion investment in marine safety and ocean health. As a part of the OPP, DFO reviewed the effectiveness of current management and recovery actions for three at-risk whale populations, including the NARW. DFO scientists assessed the overall effectiveness of recovery actions undertaken to date and identified areas for immediate improvement in recovery efforts and priorities for new or enhanced efforts.

A summary of this review was the basis of engagement with Canadians, Indigenous communities, government agencies, environmental groups, industry representatives and other key partners and stakeholders during summer 2017. Through face-to-face meetings and online Let’s Talk Whales consultations, people were invited to share their views on how to best protect the three targeted whale populations, including NARW. Almost 20,000 people participated, contributing over 200 ideas in response to the question “How can we, as Canadians, take action now to reduce impacts on at-risk whales and help their recovery?”

The annual meeting of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium—which consists of governmental and non-governmental organizations and those who study and work to conserve whales in Canada and the USA—was held in Halifax, Nova Scotia on October 22, 2017. The goal of this year’s annual meeting was to:

  1. clearly communicate the science behind the status of the population and concern regarding population decline and the impact of entanglement, vessel strikes and the recent mortality crisis; and
  2. form an international working group to reduce mortality from vessel strikes and fishing gear entanglements.

The consortium released its annual report card on NARW at the meeting, which included a review of the unprecedented mortalities in 2017.

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