Nova Scotia

Canada's biggest lobster fishery on notice after right whale entanglement in Nova Scotia gear

The entanglement of a North Atlantic right whale in Canadian lobster gear earlier this year will increase scrutiny this season on the lucrative southwestern Nova Scotia lobster fishery.

Industry must prove its actions will not hinder recovery of endangered species

Nova Scotia fishermen face extra scrutiny this lobster season

3 months ago
Duration 1:47
Nearly 1,000 boats from Lobster Fishing Area 34 will drop their traps on Saturday morning for dumping day. Earlier this week, other lobster fishermen in LFA 33 opened their season. Together they make up the most lucrative fishery in Canada, stretching from Halifax to Digby. But as Paul Withers reports, there is extra scrutiny this year.

The entanglement of a North Atlantic right whale in Canadian lobster gear earlier this year will increase scrutiny this season on the lucrative southwestern Nova Scotia lobster fishery.

In order to be certified as sustainable, the fishery must now prove its actions will not hinder the recovery of the critically endangered species.

"This means the fishery has to demonstrate in collaboration with [the Department of Fisheries and Oceans] that it's going to strengthen its strategy to mitigate impacts on right whales," says Kurtis Hayne, program director for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in Canada.

In January, the whale known as Argo was discovered off North Carolina wrapped in rope and traps from lobster fishing area (LFA) 33 in southern Nova Scotia. The whale was freed and swam away.

But in October, two new conditions were imposed on the fishery as part of its Marine Stewardship Council eco-certification which tells consumers the product they're buying is not contributing to overfishing or environmental damage.

They require the industry to "provide evidence that there is an objective basis for confidence" based on information directly about the fishery that whale protection measures in place will work.

A whale swimming just under the surface of the ocean.
North Atlantic right whale 1218, known as Argo, was entangled in lobster fishing gear from the southern coast of Nova Scotia when it was found off North Carolina in January. It was later freed and swam away, (Submitted by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Action plan created

To satisfy the conditions, the Lobster Council of Canada, on behalf of industry and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), have developed an action plan to increase overflights in lobster fishing area 33 and increase data collection, says Lobster Council executive director Geoff Irvine.

A man in a khaki jacket and wearing a cap speaks to the camera at the water's edge.
Geoff Irvine is executive director of the Lobster Council. (Daniel Jardine/CBC)

The action plan will also see cooperation with U.S. authorities to track the recovery of the entangled whale, a male believed to be at least 42 years old.

The effort is worth it, says Irvine .

Consumers want to see the little blue fish that is the Marine Stewardship Council's label signifying that seafood is sustainably harvested, he said.

"Our exporters, processors and live shippers tell us they need it to sell in certain markets, especially in Europe. And so we spend a lot of time and money to ensure that we stay certified and we think it's important still going forward," Irvine told CBC News.

Season openings this week in lobster fishing areas 33 and 34 will see over 1,600 boats dropping vertical lines on traps from Halifax to Digby.

Reported entanglements in Nova Scotia lobster gear are rare. Still, Canada imposes sweeping fishery closures on all trap fisheries wherever right whales are spotted.

A man in a dark suit speaks to the camera.
Kurtis Hayne is program director for Marine Stewardship Council in Canada. (CBC)

Hayne says MSC supports Canada's efforts to protect right whales.

MSC says certification drives sustainability improvements

The opening of the lobster season coincided with an MSC report saying 61.5 percent of wild-capture fisheries in Canada are now certified by the organization. The assessment claimed 152 different specific improvements since 2008 across these fisheries.

"What we found is that fisheries that are certified continually improve in our program," Hayne says.

New standard

Despite his support, Irvine says MSC's new sustainability standard may prove difficult to implement for the Maritime lobster fishery.

The organization wants independent monitoring of the catch in all fisheries to verify exactly what is being taken out of the water.

Lobsters in a crate
Lobster fishing areas 33 and 34 open this week and will see over 1,600 boats dropping traps on vertical lines from Halifax to Digby, N.S. (CBC)

Third-party monitoring does not exist in a meaningful way across the lobster industry and lobster fishermen have been resistant to on-board video cameras and at-sea observers.

Irvine says the industry needs to understand what steps would satisfy MSC.

"It's a gold standard program. But we also know that we may not be able to stick with MSC. So we're looking at other options and there's some active things happening there."

Hayne said there are lots of ways to get independent monitoring data, including electronic log books and electronic monitoring, and fisheries that are currently certified have until 2028 to become compliant.

"I have some confidence, especially with growth of efficient technologies, that a lot of these fisheries will have efficient ways of implementing catch monitoring in the future," he said.



Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.