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Transport Canada is concerned about the deaths of endangered North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. For the second year, Transport Canada is taking action to minimize risks to North Atlantic right whales and marine personnel in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. On August 11, 2017, the Government of Canada imposed a speed restriction for vessels 20 metres or longer to a maximum of 10 knots when travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The speed restriction was lifted on January 11, 2018 because North Atlantic right whales were not expected to be present in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and winter navigation conditions presented growing risks to human safety.

New speed restrictions will be in force on April 28 and will continue until November 15. The length may change depending on the migration of the North Atlantic right whales.

Overview of protections

We will use two measures to protect right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence:

  1. Fixed speed restriction in a large area:
    • where vessels 20 metres and above must not travel over 10 knots
    • where other vessels are encouraged to respect this limit
    • which is in force during right whale season
  2. Temporary speed restrictions in shipping lanes when a right whale is spotted in or near the lane

The measures will be in place from April 28 to November 15. Dates may be adjusted depending on evidence of right whales in the area and marine safety issues.

In addition to the speed restriction, Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced other measures last year to help protect North Atlantic right whales.

For notices to shipping currently in force, visit the Canadian Coast Guard website.

Static protected area

A speed restriction from April 28 until November 15 will be imposed for vessels 20 metres or longer to a maximum of 10 knots when travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence in the area highlighted in pink below. The speed restriction zone may be changed as the whales migrate through the area.

The Government of Canada will allow ships to travel at normal speeds when no whales are in the area in parts of the two shipping lanes highlighted in green below, which are north and south of Anticosti Island. A 15-day mandatory slowdown of 10 knots will be activated within a section of the shipping lanes when one North Atlantic right whale is spotted and can be extended as needed.

Map showing the static protected area to the northwest and south of Anticosti Island. Also shows shipping lanes: south, with three areas marked A, B and C, and north, with one area marked D. The map is for visual representation only and is not to be used for navigation or enforcement. Source: Transport Canada

Temporary speed restriction in shipping lanes

We will have two shipping lanes where slowdowns can be activated:

  • South of Anticosti: divided into three slowdown sections (see areas A, B, C on the map)
  • North of Anticosti: where part of the shipping lane is a slowdown sections (see area D)

The speed restriction will be in effect when aerial surveillance confirms the shipping lanes are free of right whales.

When slowdowns will be in effect in the shipping lane sections

A slowdown will be activated when one right whale is seen in:

  • a section of the two shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island section
  • a 2.5-nautical-mile buffer area adjacent to the section

If a right whale is seen within 2.5 nautical miles of a border between sections, a slowdown will be activated in the adjacent section.

Each slowdown will be in force for 15 days.

If right whales are not seen during the last two aerial surveillance flights during the 15-day period, Transport Canada will lift the slowdown at the end of the period.

If aerial surveillance cannot be done for one week, we will implement a mandatory slowdown. This slowdown will apply to the shipping lane(s) until two surveillance flights confirm there are no right whales present.Voluntary slowdown period
From November 16 to December 31, right whales are likely to have left the Gulf of St. Lawrence. During this time we will ask vessels to travel at 10 knots if:

  • right whales are confirmed to be in the area, and
  • maritime conditions permit vessels to safely operate at this speed

Compliance and enforcement

If vessels don’t comply with right whale speed restrictions, they could be fined $6,000 to $25,000.

We will use vessel data provided by the Canadian Coast Guard to help us check for compliance.

If a vessel appears to have violated a speed limit, our marine safety inspectors will:

  • review information from the Canadian Coast Guard
  • seek evidence by contacting the vessel’s master

If we issue a fine, vessel owners will have 30 days to pay, or to ask the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada to review the violation.

We will not grant exemptions. But we will consider factors such as:

  • decisions made to ensure vessel safety
  • weather conditions
  • the need to respond to emergencies