Protecting North Atlantic right whales from collisions with vessels in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

Transport Canada is committed to the protection and recovery of the endangered North Atlantic right whales. We are taking actions to help protect this species in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This year’s measures were developed through collaboration with the marine industry, non-governmental organizations, academia, and other government departments.

On this page

Overview of 2020 protection measures

From April 28 to November 15, 2020, Transport Canada is using additional measures to help protect North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence:

  1. Shown in pink in the map below, from April 28 to November 15, 2020, a fixed speed restriction is currently in place in a large area known as the speed restriction area or the northern and southern static zones.
  2. Shown in green, temporary speed restrictions are implemented in designated areas within the shipping lanes when a North Atlantic right whale is spotted in or near the shipping lane. These are identified as dynamic shipping zones A, B, C, D and E on the map.
  3. Shown in dark pink, north and south of dynamic shipping zone E are seasonal management areas 1 and 2 where a fixed speed restriction was in place from April 28 to June 30.
  4. Shown in grey, implementation of a trial voluntary speed restriction zone of 10 knots over the ground spanning from Cabot Strait to the eastern edge of dynamic shipping zone E at the beginning and end of the season.
  5. Shown in dark blue, a mandatory restricted area in and near the Shediac Valley was implemented on August 1, 2020.

Weather and sea conditions can impact the safe operation of a vessel. When the speed restriction is in effect, vessels in the static zones and dynamic shipping zones are required to operate at a maximum of 10 knots, unless it is unsafe to do so. Navigational warnings lifting the speed restriction are issued when adverse weather conditions are jeopardizing the safety of vessels and mariners.

For navigational warnings (formerly known as notices to shipping) currently in force, visit the Canadian Coast Guard website.

In addition to the speed restriction implemented by our department, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has also implemented other measures related to the fisheries sector to help protect North Atlantic right whales.

Static zones

A speed restriction is currently in effect from April 28 to November 15, 2020, for vessels above 13 metres in length, and they are required to travel to a maximum of 10 knots over ground in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence. Other vessels are also encouraged to respect this speed limit. The northern and southern speed restriction zones are shown in the pink areas in the map below.

Temporary speed restriction in shipping lanes

Temporary speed restrictions of 10 knots over ground for vessels above 13 metres in length get activated in the following shipping lanes:

  • South of Anticosti Island: divided into four speed restriction zones (see areas A, B, C and E on the map).
  • North of Anticosti Island: part of the shipping lane consists of a speed restriction zone (see area D).

Speed restrictions will be activated in the shipping zones as follows:

When at least one North Atlantic right whale is seen:

  • In any dynamic shipping zones north and/or south of Anticosti Island; and
  • 5 nautical miles south of the dynamic shipping zones or 2.5 nautical miles from the eastern and western edges of these zones.

Each speed restriction is in effect for 15 days. If North Atlantic right whales are not detected during the 15-day period, the speed restriction is lifted at the end of the period.

When Transport Canada is unable to clear the zones of North Atlantic right whale presence (usually due to inclement weather) using aerial surveillance or acoustic detection within:

  • a 14 day period at the beginning of the season (from April 28 to June 1, 2020);
  • a 14 day period at the end of the season (from September 15 to November 15, 2020); or
  • a 7-day period mid-season.

a speed restriction applies to the dynamic shipping zone(s) until another surveillance flight confirms there are no North Atlantic right whales detected. Surveillance flights take place as soon as weather conditions improve to allow for proper observation of the North Atlantic right whales.

Seasonal management areas

This year, two seasonal management areas (SMA) were implemented:

  • North of dynamic shipping zone E (SMA-1 on the map)
  • South of dynamic shipping zone E (SMA-2 on the map)

Within the seasonal management areas 1 and 2, vessels above 13 metres in length:

  • Must reduce their speed to not exceed 10 knots over the ground from April 28 to June 30, 2020.
  • Are allowed to proceed at safe operational speed from July 1 to November 15, 2020, unless a North Atlantic right whale is detected. If a North Atlantic right whale is detected, the seasonal management area will be under a 15-day mandatory speed restriction of 10 knots over the ground for vessels above 13 metres in length.

Restricted area

In the summer months, an important proportion of the total North Atlantic right whale population gathers for feeding and surface activity near the Shediac Valley. Since this makes the North Atlantic right whale more susceptible to vessel collisions, a mandatory restricted area is in place in and near Shediac Valley. All necessary details can be found in the Interim Order that came into force on August 1, 2020. This information is also available to mariners through a navigational warning and a notice to fish harvesters.

Vessels above 13 metres in length are required to:

  • avoid the area unless they are part of the exceptions listed in the Interim Order;
  • exempt vessels transiting the area must do so at a speed not exceeding 8.0 knots over the ground.

Trial voluntary speed restriction in Cabot Strait

To coincide with the North Atlantic right whales migration in and out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a voluntary speed restriction was in place from April 28 to June 15, 2020 and will be in place again from October 1 to November 15, 2020.

  • During this period, vessels above 13 metres in length are asked to voluntarily reduce their speed and not to exceed 10.0 knots over the ground.
  • Outside the restriction period, vessels are able to proceed at safe operational speeds.
Map showing the static zones, the dynamic shipping zones (A, B, C, D and E), the seasonal management areas, the restricted area and the trial voluntary speed restriction zone

This map is for visual representation only and is not to be used for navigation or enforcement.

Voluntary slowdown period

In late fall, weather conditions are less favourable for both navigation and whale-observation flights. For this reason, from November 15 to December 31, we ask all vessels to slow down to 10 knots over ground if:

  • North Atlantic right whales are confirmed to be in the area; and/or
  • maritime conditions permit vessels to safely operate at this speed.

Compliance and enforcement

To verify compliance, we use vessel data provided by the Canadian Coast Guard.

If a vessel above 13 metres in length appears to have gone over the 10 knot speed limit or proceeded through the restricted area, our marine safety inspectors will:

  • review information from the Canadian Coast Guard provided through the Automatic Identification System; and
  • seek additional evidence by contacting the vessel's master. This will allow for the collection of more data including information from the vessel’s log book and the verification of its content with the master.

We will not grant exemptions in advance. However, if a deviation from the speed restrictions is necessary for safety reasons, the following information must be entered into the bridge logbook:

  • reasons for deviation;
  • speed at which vessel operated;
  • latitude and longitude at time of deviation;
  • time and duration of deviation;
  • master of the vessel shall sign and date the bridge logbook entry.

For any deviation, Transport Canada will review and consider reasons such as:

  • navigating to ensure vessel safety;
  • weather conditions;
  • unforeseeable circumstances; and
  • responding to emergencies.

If it is determined that a vessel did not comply with the North Atlantic right whale speed restrictions or restricted area, vessel owners could face administrative monetary penalties up to a maximum of CAN $250,000 and/or penal sanction under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. Vessel owners will have 30 days to pay the fine or to ask the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada to review the facts of the alleged violation or the amount of the fine.

Compliance update

Transport Canada takes the speed restriction very seriously and examines all potential case of non-compliance. Out of 345 cases reported between April 28 and September 10, 2020, 3 penalties were issued and 39 cases are under review. All other cases have been closed.

Total number of vessel movements monitored in the speed restriction zones since the start of the season: 6,091

Total number of vessels with speed recorded above the speed limit: 345

Compliance statistics

Compliance statistics
Status Number of vessels
Closed 303
Penalties issued 3
Under review 39
Total 345

Actions taken to date

2017

On August 11, 2017, the Government of Canada implemented speed restrictions for vessels 20 metres or longer to a maximum of 10 knots when travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence.

2018

In 2018, we took action for a second year to minimize risks for navigational safety and North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

There were no documented fatalities of North Atlantic right whales in Canadian waters in 2018.

2019

Based on consultations with industry and on scientific data, two changes were made to the restriction zones of 2018, which took effect on April 28, 2019:

  • The southeast corner of the speed restriction zone, around the Magdalen Islands was removed.
  • To help reduce impacts on the marine transportation industry, vessels were allowed, in the absence of North Atlantic right whale sightings, to travel at safe speeds in a larger area north of Anticosti Island, extending to the mainland.

In response to the deaths of North Atlantic right whales in Canadian waters, the Government of Canada took further concrete actions to help protect these marine mammals:

  • On June 26, 2019, Transport Canada implemented an interim precautionary measure of a mandatory speed restriction of 10 knots, for vessels of 20 metres or more in length travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence, in parts of two shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island. Based on the extensive aerial surveillance in July and the absence of North Atlantic right whales reported in the dynamic shipping zones, Transport Canada returned to a dynamic approach in managing the dynamic shipping zones, effective August 2, 2019.
  • On July 8, 2019, the Government of Canada announced new vessel traffic management measures to protect the North Atlantic right whale. These additional measures included:
    • slowing down more ships to include those measuring greater than 13 metres in length;
    • expanding the zones in which speed restrictions apply (extending the static zone to the east and adding dynamic shipping zone E);
    • dividing the mandatory slowdown zone into northern and southern zones;
    • expanding the slowdown buffer zone around the dynamic shipping zones; and
    • increasing aerial surveillance.

Planning for the future

Transport Canada continuously engages with its partners and stakeholders to acquire and share valuable information to help protect the North Atlantic right whales. Together we are assessing lessons learned from the past seasons and finding the right path forward for all.

Read more about the enhanced 2020 measures in the Backgrounder: Protecting North Atlantic right whales.