Gulf habi­tats un­der at­tack

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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