The Sierra Club of Canada and other concerned professionals are asking Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans Minister Loyola Hearn to reconsider his decisions to dismiss the North Atlantic Right Whale Recovery Implementation Team, a coalition that provides expert advice on habitat, protection, and stewardship for the critically endangered right whale in the Bay of Fundy and elsewhere on Canada’s east coast.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has been developing a revised North Atlantic Right Whale Management Plan, but surprised everyone when they effectively fired their Recovery Team; a group of highly qualified and experienced experts representing fishing, shipping, First Nations, conservation groups, and government. For over 8 years, they have contributed to protecting and preserving this highly endangered species. In fact, they wrote the first recovery plan for right whales even before the Species at Risk Act existed.
Gretchen Fitsgerald, Executive Director of Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter commented, “At first it was a rumour on the street, but then we heard from Recovery Team members that they had effectively been discharged at the last meeting in March, 2008 and that DFO was preparing to ‘go it alone’.”
In Canada, the Species At Risk Act (SARA) protects plants and animals that have been classified as “at risk”, “threatened”, or “endangered”. Initially, species of concern are brought to the attention of the independent Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). If this screening identifies a candidate for protection, then that species moves under the protection of SARA. A Recovery Strategy or management plan that identifies what need to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species, is developed for each species as well as Action Plans which outline the projects or activities required to meet the goals and objectives outlined in the recovery strategy. This includes information on the species habitat, protection measures, and an evaluation of the socio-economic costs and benefits. These plans are reviewed and updated at regular intervals. (www.sararegistry.gc.ca)
This process has worked well. In fact, the public has a comment period as required by the Act. But, until now, many highly endangered species, like the North Atlantic Right Whale, had a special Recovery Team including the very best and most experienced whale experts available and the process was measurably enhanced by their involvement since many of these folks spend untold hours on the waters where Right Whales occur and they have intimate knowledge about their activities and habitat. Collectively their overview is priceless. Now it appears that their wisdom is no longer needed, despite the fact that most of the data and expertise that could be used to develop action plans lies with scientists and non-profit organizations and not the government.
The North Atlantic Right Whale is considered by many to be the most endangered large marine mammal in the world. There are only 350 or so of these animals left on the east coast of North America and these few are constantly in trouble from ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement.
Industrial development in the Bay of Fundy is proceeding at an alarming rate and the threat to Atlantic Right Whales will grow as more and more ships enter the Bay. We will need all of our intelligence and experience to deal with these increased threats. DFO needs everyone to face this challenge and Minister Hearn should ensure the integrity of this important Recovery Team. Members of the team from non-profit organizations and academia have successfully shown that they can work with government and industry to achieve effective protection of right whales including the moving of the shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy in 2003 and the designation of a seasonal Area to Be Avoided in Roseway Basin in 2008.
Canada does not ‘own’ the North Atlantic Right Whale. It is a wide-ranging species whose range includes international, US, and Canadian waters. All of us, from Newfoundland to Florida, are stewards for this severely threatened species and each summer we hold these animals in trust for our neighbours and the world. All of the experts who are concerned about recovery and protection of the North Atlantic Right Whale need to be involved in this process. The devil is in the detail, as they say, and without full input, the plans will be less than complete.
“We are going public with this information now because of the short time available. The public review is coming up very soon and, while we will all be preparing responses, we need to be assured that the North Atlantic Right Whale Recovery Implementation Team will be fully active when it comes to carrying out the Action Plan. “We are simply asking the Minister, if he has the best interests of endangered species at heart, then why dismiss these eminent and knowledgeable experts? We have one of the best systems in the world, let’s keep it.” said Mark Dittrick of the Sierra Club of Canada (Atlantic Chapter)