MONCTON, N.B. -- Ottawa will order boats to give right whales a 100-metre buffer zone as it looks at every possible option to protect the endangered mammals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, says Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
LeBlanc met Thursday in Moncton, N.B., with scientists, Indigenous groups and representatives from the fishing and marine transport industries to discuss possible solutions after a deadly summer.
Twelve right whales have turned up dead in Canadian waters this year, and another four died in American waters.
"Scientific research can and must necessarily take some time, and in the case of protecting the North Atlantic right whales, time is not necessarily on our side," LeBlanc told the conference during his opening remarks.
LeBlanc said he will soon be releasing new marine mammal regulations that will include a buffer zone.
"I intend to include in the updated regulations a requirement for a 100-metre buffer between vessels and most marine mammals, including obviously the North Atlantic right whale," he said.
Many of the whales died as a result of blunt force trauma after being struck by boats, while other deaths have been attributed to fishing gear entanglements.
LeBlanc said future solutions could include new fishing gear that uses less rope, or rope that could be easily broken by whales.
"I want to understand how ready is this technology to be used," he said. "We're open very much to technology and innovation as part of the solution."
Ottawa has taken steps to reduce the risk by reducing the speed limit in the Gulf -- which has led some cruise ships to cancel visits, and prompted at least one shipping line to hike rates -- and shutting down a snow crab fishery.
LeBlanc has said the government will look at every option possible to protect whales, including making the speed limit permanent, enacting new regulations on fishing gear, or changing crab fishing season dates to ensure equipment is removed before the whales migrate into the Gulf.
There are roughly 450 right whales left in the world, and Tonya Wimmer of the Marine Animal Response Society said that number is declining.
"Probably the more alarming component of that is very few of those are females that are breeding and we are losing them faster than we lose anyone else in the population. If they keep going with the number of deaths of these adult females, we're going to lose them within 20 to 25 years. If you lose all your breeding females, your population is done," she said.
Hundreds gathered in Halifax last month for the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium's annual meeting, where the deaths were described as a dire blow to the endangered species' survival.