Lobster season kicks off amid worries right whales could close some zones

The spring lobster season began in the Gulf of St. Lawrence Monday, amid worries the arrival of endangered right whales could interrupt the lucrative fishery.

The lobster season extends from ``setting day'' until July 1, and is among the largest fisheries in the region.

Carl Allen of the Maritime Fishermen's Union said if whales swim into designated areas, new federal rules could close the lobster fisheries along the shorelines.

He argues this is unnecessary because there is little record of the endangered mammals becoming snared in lobster trap lines.

However, federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said last week that his department's rules have to match standards in the United States, or there's a risk the U.S. will block fishermen from selling lobster into the American market.

A total of 18 North Atlantic right whales were killed in Canadian and U.S. waters last year, mainly due to vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.

There are only about 450 of the whales left, and many spend their summers feeding in the Gulf.

Allen said the spring lobster season began in most areas today, though ice was causing a delay in a zone off the northeastern coast of New Brunswick.