Slowdowns to protect Canada’s endangered whale populations have ended for 2021. Participation in both mandatory and voluntary measures was very high this year. Congratulations and thank you to our members for your dedication and efforts to protect Canada’s North Atlantic right whales, St. Lawrence Estuary Belugas, and Southern Resident killer whales.
East Coast: No North Atlantic right whale (NARW) mortalities from vessel strikes were observed in Canadian waters this year. However, the NARW population is currently estimated to be at its lowest in 20 years and concerns remain high. The Shipping Federation continues to engage in a number of forums concerning NARWs, including Transport Canada’s NARW Advisory Group and Large Vessel Interactions Subcommittee, and to strongly advocate for the federal government to invest in efficient solutions to detect and monitor NARW.
Management measures ended on November 15th. They included:
- Dynamic Shipping Zones (A-E, mandatory), in place April 28-November 15, were communicated via 38 NAVWARNS (versus 51 in 2020). Speed restrictions were implemented 7 times because of whale presence and 3 times because of inability to clear the dynamic shipping zones. Final statistics have not yet been released.*
- Area to be Avoided in the Shediac Valley (where NARWs aggregate in large numbers, mandatory) was activated on June 14 and ended on August 27. This primarily affected traffic to the Port of Belledune in Chaleur Bay.
- Cabot Strait Voluntary Slowdown trial had an overall participation rate of approximately 54%, in 2021,* a great improvement from 38% in 2020. By in large, vessels were transiting slower in this area even when they did not “participate.” Of the vessels that did not hit the 10 kt target speed reduction, 91% had an average speed of less than 12 knots.
In the St Lawrence Estuary, a voluntary slowdown to 10 knots speed through water to protect the St. Lawrence River Belugas, was in place May 1-October 31. This slowdown has existed since 2013. Results in 2021 were similar to the past five years: average transit speed during the slowdown was 10.8 knots, with 79% of transits under 11.8 knots. For comparison, average transit speed in this area outside of the slowdown period is 14.1 knots.
West Coast: Industry participated in the 2021 measures to reduce ship noise impacts on Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) under the ECHO Program. This included voluntary slowdowns at Haro Strait and Boundary Pass where measures have been in place for several years, and an inbound slowdown at Swiftsure that began in 2020. In these areas, tankers and bulkers were asked to transit at 11 knots, and container vessels vehicle carriers at 14.5 knots.
- The Haro and Boundary slowdown slowdowns start and end based on whale presence in the area. They began on July 1 and ended on November 30th and saw very high participation rates, with approximately* 90% pilot-reported participation overall (2020 and 2019 had 93% and 82% respectively).
- The outbound Swiftsure slowdown ended October 31 with 81% participation,* exceeding the 80% participation KPI in the Conservation Agreement signed by industry, government and other stakeholders. This area has been identified as an important foraging area for SRKW and other marine mammals, an area where it is particularly important that the whales can hear in order to catch fish.
Looking Forward: A new inbound slowdown at Swiftsure Bank, which is in shipping lanes managed by the United States and touches a Washington State coastal first nation with fishing rights in the area, looks increasingly feasible and likely for 2022.
*These numbers are preliminary. Participation data for 2021 is currently being analyzed, and will be available in 2022.
Manager, Environmental and Regulatory Affairs