Icebreaker dispatched to northeast N.B. as part of right whale protection plan

A Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker is smashing through pack ice off the northeast coast of New Brunswick as crab fishermen in the area prepare to head out on the water earlier than usual this season.

The unusual measures, announced last month by federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, are part of a desperate bid to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The goal is to have the snow crab fishermen complete their work in the Gulf of St. Lawrence before the migrating whales arrive in the area to feed, which could eliminate deadly ship strikes and entanglements with fishing gear.

The coast guard says the Sir William Alexander, a light icebreaker, has already helped clear ice from Shippagan harbour.

But there are concerns about a thick band of pack ice sitting outside the Acadian Peninsula.

Coast guard spokesman Trevor Hodgson says southwesterly winds will be needed to push that ice out of Chaleur Bay before the next steps are taken to open the fishery.