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

Transport Canada is committed to the protection and conservation of endangered North Atlantic right whales. We are taking actions to help protect this iconic species in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The measures for the 2022 season were developed with the collaboration of the marine transportation industry, non-governmental organizations, academia, and other government departments.

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Overview of 2022 protection measures

From April 20 to November 15, 2022, Transport Canada has put in effect  the following vessel traffic management measures to help protect North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence:

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

Each traffic management measure listed in the map legend is outlined below.

Static zones

A fixed speed restriction for vessels more than 13 metres in length is in effect from April 20 to November 15, 2022, in a large area called the static zone, that is divided into a northern and a southern  zone,. These vessels are required to travel at a speed not exceeding 10 knots over the ground in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Other vessels are also encouraged to respect this speed limit  Both static zones are shown in the map above (in pink for the northern zone  and hatched pink for the southern zone).

Temporary speed restriction in shipping lanes

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

  • South of Anticosti Island: divided into four dynamic shipping zones (see areas A, B, C and E in green on the map above).
  • North of Anticosti Island: part of the shipping lane is labelled as  dynamic shipping zone (see area D in green on the map above).

Speed restrictions are activated in the dynamic shipping zones as follows:

When at least one North Atlantic right whale is detected:

  • 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 beginning on the day of detection. If North Atlantic right whales are not detected during the last 7 days of the 15-day period, the speed restriction is lifted at the end of the period.

When Transport Canada is unable to conduct aerial surveillance or underwater acoustic detections for North Atlantic right whales in these zones (usually due to inclement weather) within the following schedule:

  • a 14 day period at the beginning of the season (from April 20 to May 31, 2022);
  • a 7-day period mid-season; and
  • a 14 day period at the end of the season (from September 21 to November 15, 2022).

A speed restriction is applied to the affected dynamic shipping zone(s) until another surveillance flight confirms there are no North Atlantic right whales detected. Surveillance flight takes  place as soon as weather conditions improve and allow for proper surveillance of North Atlantic right whales.

Weather and sea conditions can impact the safe operation of a vessel. When a 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 could jeopardize the safety of vessels and mariners.

To subscribe and receive navigational warnings (formerly known as notices to shipping) that are currently in force, visit the Canadian Coast Guard website.

Seasonal management areas 1 and 2

A fixed speed restriction  in two seasonal management areas (SMA), located north and south of dynamic shipping zone E, was in effect from April 20 to June 28, 2022 for vessels more than 13 metres in length.

These vessels were required to travel at a speed not exceeding 10 knots over the ground within both seasonal management areas. Vessels are allowed to proceed at safe operational speeds from June 29 to November 15, 2022, unless a North Atlantic right whale is detected. If a North Atlantic right whale is detected, the seasonal management area is subject to a 15-day mandatory speed restriction of 10 knots over the ground. Both seasonal management areas are shown in the map above in dark pink labelled SMA-1 and SMA-2.

Restricted area

In the summer months, a large number of the North Atlantic right whale population is anticipated to gather for feeding and surface activity in and near the Shediac Valley. Since this makes the North Atlantic right whale more vulnerable to collisions with vessels, a mandatory restricted area has been implemented in this area. Exact coordinates of this zone are confirmed and accessible to mariners through the Ship Safety Bulletin on the protection of the North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the special edition of the Notices to Mariners # 02/22 (PDF, 432 KB). They are also communicated through a navigational warning and a notice to fish harvesters.

When the restricted area is in effect, vessels more than 13 metres in length are required to:

The restricted area is shown in dark blue in the map above.

Trial voluntary slowdown in Cabot Strait

To coincide with the North Atlantic right whales’ migration in and out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a trial voluntary slowdown was in place from April 20 to June 28, 2022, and will be in place again from September 28 to November 15, 2022.

  • During this period, vessels more than 13 metres in length are asked to voluntarily reduce their speed and not to exceed 10 knots over the ground.
  • Outside the slowdown periods, vessels are able to proceed at safe operational speeds.

The Cabot Strait voluntary slowdown is shown above in grey, and spans from the Cabot Strait to the eastern edge of dynamic shipping zone E.

Additional measure

Again this year, a speed limit exemption in waters of less than 20 fathoms is applied to all commercial fishing vessels. In case of a North Atlantic right whale detection in waters of less than 20 fathoms, a Navigational warning (NAVWARN) will be issued in addition to the Notice to fish harvesters, enforcing a speed restriction of no more than 10 knots over the ground to all fishing vessels in the northern and southern static zones.

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.

Monitoring and reporting tools

The National Aerial Surveillance Program is Transport Canada’s primary tool to monitor for North Atlantic right whales in the shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island and the restricted area. To complement the surveillance platform, a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (or drone) and an underwater acoustic glider are incorporated into the surveillance platforms for part of the season in the shipping lanes.  An additional underwater acoustic glider will be deployed this year to monitor and gather information on North Atlantic right whales presence in the Cabot Strait.

Post-season voluntary slowdown period

In late fall, weather conditions are generally less favourable for both navigation and whale-monitoring activities. For this reason, from November 15 to December 31 2022, we  ask all vessels to slow down to 10 knots over the ground on a voluntary basis if:

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

Compliance and enforcement

The statutory 2022 Interim Order, that was published on April 20, 2022, enables the issuance of Navigational Warnings (NAVWARN) imposing speed or navigational restrictions on vessels.

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

If a vessel more than 13 metres in length appears to have exceeded the speed limit implemented in any zone or proceeded through the restricted area and is not an excepted vessel under the 2022 Interim Order, that was published on April 20, 2022, 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.

Aside from the exceptions listed in the 2022 Interim Order, that was published on April 20, 2022, Transport Canada will not grant exemptions in advance. However, if a deviation from the speed restrictions or restricted areas 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 of up to a maximum of CAN $250,000 and/or a penal sanction under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. If charged with a violation, vessel owners will have 30 days to pay the penalty to the Minister or request the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada to review the facts of the alleged violation or request a reconsideration of the penalty amount.

Compliance update

Transport Canada takes the speed restriction very seriously and examines all potential case of non-compliance.

From April 20 to September 23, 2022

Total number of vessel movements monitored in the speed restriction zones since the start of the season: 8309

Total number of vessels with speed recorded above the speed limit or entering the restricted area: 427

Compliance Statistics

Status Number of Vessels
Closed 401
Penalties Issued 1
Under Review 25
Total 427

Action taken to date

Since 2017, Transport Canada has been implementing vessel traffic management measures to protect North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. See what actions we have taken each year here.

Planning for the future

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

Roseway Basin’s Area to be Avoided - June 1 to December 31

Mariners with vessels of 300 gross tonnage or more are reminded of the Roseway Basin’s recommended seasonal Area to be Avoided, which is in effect from June 1 to December 31, to protect North Atlantic right whales. All mariners are encouraged to avoid this area if possible, to support the recovery of this endangered species. For more information, click here.