OTTAWA - Transport Canada is issuing fines to a pair of Canadian Coast Guard ships that allegedly sailed too fast through the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the rising death toll among endangered North Atlantic right whales has been partly blamed on collisions with vessels.
The ships are among six — including a luxury yacht and three cargo vessels — to incur penalties that apply to alleged incidents from before speed restrictions were lifted earlier this month, when the government found the policy may have been pushing ships closer to the endangered mammals.
Transport Canada says no whales have been spotted in the shipping lanes where speed limits were reduced starting in April. Meanwhile the new measure, rather than simply prompting slower speeds, had the effect of driving some ships out of the lanes and into areas where the right whales are known to gather.
The agency says it hopes that raising the speed limit will push vessels back into the lanes.
Since early June, eight right whales have died in Canadian waters, the worst death toll since 2017 when there were 12 confirmed deaths in Canadian waters and five in the United States. Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said two weeks ago that only one death has been reported since "aggressive'' new measures came into effect on July 8 to protect the planet's 400 remaining right whales.
Instead of heading to their traditional summer foraging grounds in the Bay of Fundy and the Roseway Basin off southwestern Nova Scotia, the population has shifted to a more northerly destination — right into the busy shipping lanes of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The two coast guard ships — the CCGS Cape Edensaw and CCGS Cap d'Espoir — were fined $6,000 and $12,000, respectively, part of $48,000 in total penalties announced Monday for the six ships.