Gulf habitats under attack
Instead of taking measures to protect endangered whales and other fragile marine life in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, our so-called environment friendly federal government is heading in the opposite direction.
In recent weeks, scientists and environmentalists were sent reeling by the deaths of seven right whales in the Gulf. Several others entangled in fishing gear were cut free — one with tragic consequences this week when a fisherman died after being struck by a floundering whale.
Necropsies conducted on a P.E.I. beach indicated at least two whales died from blunt trauma, most likely caused by impact from ships. Others were caught in a lethal grip from fishing gear. It would seem logical that immediate steps are needed to protect this majestic species. The right whale population has dropped to approximately 525 and their deaths are devastating.
Ottawa had announced plans to increase Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) along our coasts and seashores — by five per cent this year, and enlarging that to 10 per cent by 2020.
The process for designating the Laurentian Channel as an MPA is working its way through the parliamentary system. Yet, in recent days, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced that 80 per cent of that new, so-called MPA would be open to oil and gas development.
Pressure is obviously coming from politicians and oil and gas lobbyists to open up the Gulf for drilling with the promise of more jobs and hefty royalties. The channel is a main entry to the Gulf from the Cabot Strait and Atlantic Ocean. It’s a key feeding and migratory pathway for whales, endangered leatherback turtles and is one of the only known mating grounds for endangered porbeagle sharks.
The Gulf appears to be an emerging habitat for right whales, and scientists must figure out where they are and what can be done to protect them. There must be consultation and cooperation with fishermen and shippers to come up with ways to protect the animals by rerouting shipping lanes, alerting fishermen to the whales’ presence and setting speed limits for vessels. Drilling increases the odds for more whale deaths. Earlier this year, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board issued a new four-year, 52,000-hectare exploration licence for the sensitive Old Harry shelf in the Gulf. It gives the company more preparation time before starting exploration work this fall in the area between the Iles de la Madeleine and N.L.
Fishermen, environmentalists and First Nations oppose the exploration work and any future drilling. Their concerns are justified because a potential spill would have a devastating impact on lucrative lobster, groundfish, tuna, crab and shrimp industries. It would be a tourism disaster if Maritime beaches were defiled.
There is still time to change Minister LeBlanc’s mind. We don’t want to see any more whales towed to P.E.I. beaches so scientists can confirm our worst fears — that man once again is destroying our planet one species at a time. Minister LeBlanc must be made to see the folly of his actions.