No reported right whale deaths in Canadian waters so far in 2018, officials say

Federal officials say there have been no reported deaths of endangered North Atlantic right whales in Canadian waters this year, with dozens spotted amid strict fishing and vessel speed restrictions.

There were 12 whale deaths last year in Canadian waters, half of those in June.

To date this year, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says aerial surveillance has detected at least 75 whales in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Jean Landry, DFO's director of marine mammal science, says that figure likely underestimates the total number in the area and other Canadian waters.

Landry says observers have logged 371 flying hours since early April, more than last year's total by science aircraft.

DFO has temporarily closed 4,600 square kilometres of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and another 780 square kilometres in the Roseway Basin off Nova Scotia's southern coast to non-tended fixed gear fisheries such as snow crab and lobster.

At least 18 right whales have been found dead overall since 2017, likely due to rope entanglements and ship collisions.

Meanwhile, The Lobster Council of Canada says it's committed to ensuring the protection of the North Atlantic right whales. 

A statement released by the council on Wednesday says it has been taking steps to ensure their protection long before last year's devastating mortality rate. 

The industry began developing its own mitigation strategies like monitoring, self-imposed suspensions, and gear tracking as early as 2006. 

The statement says other measures have also been put into place, which includes the dynamic and static closure of the fishery based on the location and movement of North Atlantic Right Whales, daily oversight of regulatory compliance by the department, a reduction in the amount of rope floating on the surface of the water, harvester reporting of any lost gear, and a sighting policy that involves a whale hotline number. 

The Lobster Council of Canada says it wants to work with the government to monitor the effectiveness of all regulations to ensure they're the best mitigation measures possible to protect the right whales, while also recognizing the economic survival of coastal communities. 

~ With files from The Canadian Press.