Since 2017, the Canadian lobster industry feels like it’s been trapped in a “South Park” episode. There has been a steady drumbeat eager to “Blame Canada” for the plight of North Atlantic right whales.

Right whales were rarely observed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence until recently. Historically, they never ventured much beyond their northernmost habitat south of Nova Scotia during the summer and fall, before moving to their winter calving grounds off the southeastern United States. All that changed in 2017 when a large number unexpectedly moved to the Gulf. Tragically, we lost 17 right whales: 12 in Canadian waters and five in the United States. Two of the 12 Canadian fatalities were found to be caused by crab gear entanglements.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data confirm that only two deaths out of 21 documented in Canadian waters since 2017 were linked to fishing gear. Most of the mortality – when a cause could be determined – was linked to ship strikes by ocean freighters and cruise ships. There has never been a single, documented right whale death linked to Canadian lobster gear in recent history. There are several reasons for this.

It’s an inshore fishery conducted mostly in shallow waters of less than 20 fathoms, where right whales are rarely observed.

Our lobster fisheries are also managed differently. Canada’s May-June Gulf lobster season is fixed at 60 days. Therefore, there is limited overlap during the times of year when right whales are most concentrated in the Gulf – from July to September. Another crucial difference is that our harvesters have an average trap limit of 300 per boat, compared with 800 in New England.

Our Maine peers have made huge strides and sacrifices in recent years to protect right whales. Canada has also been leading the way, with the most aggressive management measures in the world. Moira Brown, a scientist emeritus at the New England Aquarium who has studied right whales for almost 40 years, recently stated that Canadian right whale measures were “unmatched in eastern North America.”


Canada’s lobster fisheries continue to maintain their third-party Marine Stewardship Council certification. It includes a rigorous annual analysis of the impact of our fishery on marine mammals, including right whales.

Canadian snow crab harvesters have stepped up in a major way since the 2017 crisis. Many are trying ropeless gear units under special permits to harvest in closed areas, in what is the largest R&D trial in North America.

Most Americans know our passion for hockey. Remember the Hartford Whalers? Centuries ago, whaling in places like New Bedford, Nantucket, Cape Cod and elsewhere (including Canada) brought right whales close to extinction. Is it any surprise lobster fishers feel aggrieved that in 2022, they are being blamed for the status of right whales? 

Canada has spared no effort to protect right whales since 2017. We implemented a broad suite of measures: comprehensive closure protocols, mandatory speed restrictions for large vessels, unprecedented de-icing resources to allow for early crab fishing before right whales arrive; massive aerial and at-sea surveillance with cutting-edge technology; elimination of all floating horizontal lines; “trawling” up to reduce vertical lines; 100 percent gear marking for all fixed gear fisheries, and more recently, a strong push to remove ghost gear. We are now working to implement low-breaking-strength rope or links to facilitate whales’ self-release. That not a single mortality has occurred for the past three years speaks volumes about our approach.

North America’s lobster fishery is one of the most sustainable wild fisheries on the planet. For all of us who care deeply about its future, the path forward is clear. First, let’s remember that lobster in North America is a highly integrated, multibillion-dollar industry. Tens of thousands of fishing families, plant workers and hundreds of coastal communities depend on us setting the record straight.

Second, we need to stand up and push back on what Seafood Watch represents: activism masquerading as science. Canada and the United States have a proud record of global leadership on seafood sustainability. Cooler heads must prevail. We need more science, less politics; more binational collaboration, less finger-pointing. Ensuring a sustainable future for the right whale knows no borders and needs to be addressed bi-nationally.

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