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A North Atlantic right whale is shown with its calf in a 2009 handout photo.

Zach Swaim/The Canadian Press

Ottawa is imposing strict new measures on the lobster fishery in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in an effort to protect North Atlantic right whales.

A total of 18 North Atlantic right whales were killed in Canadian and U.S. waters last year — mainly due to vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.

There are only about 450 of the whales left, and many spend their summers feeding in the Gulf.

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Moira Brown, senior research scientist with the Canadian Whale Institute, said unless the numbers change, the North Atlantic right whale could become functionally extinct in less than 25 years.

The new measures announced by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on Tuesday include restrictions on the amount of rope used.

“No rope attaching a lobster trap to a primary buoy shall remain floating on the surface of the water after the lobster trap has been set,” the new rules state.

It will be mandatory to report any lost gear.

“The new management measure will help quantify the amount of gear lost annually and identify the need to increase efforts to retrieve gear that has been lost, which would reduce the risks of whale entanglements.”

Lobster fishermen are also required to report all whale sightings and document any interactions such as collisions or entanglements.

When whales are spotted, an area around them will be temporarily closed to fishing.

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“Closures will be in force for a minimum period of 15 days and will be extended by 15 days from the last North Atlantic right whale sighting.”

The department is also imposing a static closure in an area where 90 per cent of the whale observations occurred in 2017 to provide a large gear-free area for the whales.

Similar measures had already been imposed on the Gulf-region crab fishery.

On Monday, New Brunswick Liberal MP Karen Ludwig put forward a private member’s motion in the House of Commons, in an effort to have the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans do a study on all endangered species of whales in Canada.

Twelve right whales were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2017 and scientist did necropsies to find out why. The 2017 deaths prompted Ottawa to implement a number of measures to help prevent further whale deaths but recently some of the measures were eased.
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