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North Atlantic Right Whale (NARW) Stakeholder Workshop: Reflection on a Pathway to Inclusive NARW Conservation

Updated: Jun 6

The beginning of 2024 marked an exciting transition for me from graduate student to researcher, having recently completed the Master of Marine Management program at Dalhousie University in December of the previous year. With a focus on sustainable and inclusive management practice

s using an interdisciplinary approach, I embarked on my journey of research, particularly passionate about addressing social equity and justice for Indigenous and coastal communities. Into the first month of the year, I got funding for my PhD through the Genome Canada North Atlantic Right Whale (NARW) project which marked a significant milestone. My research is on inclusive North Atlantic Right Whale (NARW) conservation. Amidst finalizing application documents for the Interdisciplinary PhD (IDPhD) program at Dal, I had the privilege of attending my first workshop - the 5th North Atlantic Right Whale Stakeholder Workshop organized by the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF).


The event was held at the Halifax Marriott Harbourfront Hotel on February 13th and 14th, 2024. About 150 participants (virtual and in-person) attended which included Indigenous and commercial fish harvesters, conservationists, scientists, researchers, students, professors, non-governmental organizations and government representatives.  It was a gathering of minds dedicated to the endangered species’ recovery. The diversity of voices echoed a shared commitment to protect the right whales from the threats of entanglements and ship strikes with each participant bringing a unique perspective. Although I was unavoidably absent for the second day of the workshop, I attended the first day in person.

Image 1: First page of the NARW Stakeholder Workshop slides. Photo credit: CWF, February 2024.

Day 1 of the workshop commenced with a welcoming remark by Sean Brillant from CWF, followed by an update on right whales presented by Tonya Wimmer from the Marine Animal Response Society. The New Science aspect of the agenda featured presentations on the effect of inbreeding on the reproductive success of female NARWs by Carla Crossman, a PhD student at Saint Mary’s University and foraging behaviour and energetic implication of NARW dispersal by Jay Kirkham (PhD student) and Rhyl Frith (M.Sc. student), both graduate students at Dalhousie University. The afternoon session was a fish harvester panel on strategies to mitigate NARW entanglement risks. It was an insightful discussion where five fish harvesters shared their perceptions on minimizing the co-occurrence of fishing activities and whale presence, static and dynamic fishing area closures, ghost gear retrieval, reducing ropes in the water, education and early detection. What struck me most was the attendees’ willingness to listen, learn, and engage constructively and openly. The hybrid-style format allowed for seamless integration, ensuring that voices from all corners were heard and respected.

Image 2: Jay Kirkham (PhD student) and Rhyl Frith (M.Sc.student) presenting at the NARW Stakeholder Workshop. Photo credit: Megan Bailey, February 2024.

Reflecting on the workshop, particularly the discussion on the strategies to mitigate whale entanglement and rich knowledge sharing, I resonate with the importance of incorporating diverse knowledge systems, including Indigenous knowledge and insights from fish harvesters’ into NARW conservation efforts. Management options should not be science for science’s sake but science that is applicable and beneficial to all. Fish harvesters shared concerns about the management measures' negative impact on their livelihood, creating an unjust distribution of the NARW conservation burden. Additionally, these measures have presented a significant barrier for new/younger generation recruits in the fishing industry, given the uncertainty of income generation due to the static and dynamic closures of the fishing zones. This might lead to a food security crisis in the future when older fishers retire. Some fishing gear innovations to reduce whale entanglement such as sinking groundlines also present a challenge. They require substantial investment yet may yield fewer catches than floating groundlines, which are more cost-effective and specifically designed for hard ground. The discussion highlighted the need for sustainable solutions that support both conservation goals and industry sustainability.

Image 3: Fish Harvester Panel: Discussion on the options to mitigate entanglement risks. Photo credit: CWF, February 2024.

Perhaps the most profound takeaway was the sense of hope that pervaded the workshop. Despite the challenges ahead, optimism was in the air- a belief that we could overcome any obstacle by working together. I am reminded of the immense potential that lies within our collective efforts and respectful engagements. Together, we have laid the groundwork for the NARW recovery- one marked by resilience, collaboration, and unwavering commitment.



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