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U.S. considers further measures to protect North Atlantic right whales

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A new U.S. government assessment of the plight of the North Atlantic right whale is questioning whether local fishing closures are enough to save the endangered species, pointing to the threat posed by vertical sea floor-to-surface fishing lines throughout their range.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) evaluation of « recovery challenges » was released ahead of a meeting next week to address proposals to protect the whales that would alter the lobster fishery in New England.

Those proposals include reducing the number of sea floor-to-surface lines by 50 per cent over five years and a month-long lobster fishing closure in the western Gulf of Maine.

Single sighting shuts down fishery

American and Canadian authorities have used local area closures as a preferred management tool to protect the whales.

This year, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans imposed severe restrictions on snow crab fishing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence after 12 right whales died there in 2017. 

In the Bay of Fundy in June, the appearance of a single right whale in a protected area shut down the lobster fishery on Grand Manan, N.B., for 15 days. The industry claims it cost a million dollars in lost income.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates nearly 85 per cent of right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once, 59 per cent at least twice and 26 per cent of the regularly seen animals are entangled annually. (Center for Coastal Studies)

« They closed the lobster fishery in an area that hadn’t harmed a whale in several decades for absolutely no reason, » said Laurence Cook, president of Lobster Fishery Area 38.

« To close us down once because one was seen travelling through a box was economically damaging to the island and completely unnecessary to protect right whales. »

Still, after a catastrophic 2017, no right whales were found dead in Canadian waters in 2018.

A million lines in the water

NOAA said closures « while very effective, regionally, may not be enough » to stop the population decline.

It estimates there are a million vertical fishing lines in the path of the right whales, with 622,000 in U.S. waters from Georgia to the Gulf of Maine and the remainder in Canadian waters along the Scotian Shelf and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The agency said nearly 85 per cent of right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once, 59 per cent at least twice, and 26 per cent of the regularly seen animals are entangled annually.

« With a 26-per cent annual entanglement rate in a population of just over 400 animals, this translates to about 100 entanglements per year, which is significant for such a small population, » the report states.

1 in 10,000 chance of entanglement

The report acknowledges with more than 1 million lines out there, any single line has perhaps a 1 in 10,000 chance of entangling a whale in any one-year period, meaning an individual fisherman — and his or her descendants — could go several generations without ever entangling a right whale.

Scientists are working to map and model where the North Atlantic right whales main food source has been found in high concentrations in the past in order to get an idea of where they may be found in the future. (Pat Foster/Adrian Colaprete)

« Given this, it’s easy to believe that all these entanglements are happening somewhere else, regardless of where one fishes. »

« But by mapping known locations of gear that led to the entanglement of a right whale, one can see that there is no place within the fished area along the East Coast of North America for which entanglement risk is zero. »

Canadian role singled out

The NOAA report echoes a criticism from Canada’s Environment Commissioner this week that Canada waited until 12 of the whales died in the Gulf of St Lawrence to before taking « strong » measures.

« Notably until spring of 2018, very few protections for right whales were in place in Canadian waters, » NOAA stated.

« In comparison to recent decades, more right whales now spend significantly more time in more northern waters and swim through extensive pot fishery zones around Nova Scotia and into the Canadian Gulf of St. Lawrence. »

The New England Aquarium, which operates whale-watching tours, is one of seven organizations and governments to submit proposals to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team.

The aquarium claims only one-third of right whale deaths are detected each year, meaning an average of between 12 and 16 right whales are dying each year.

« We assume that 50 per cent of all right whales deaths are occurring in Canada, » the New England Aquarium states in its proposal.

Better identification of entanglement sources

While American advocates urge larger closures and line reductions, the state of Maine said more data is needed and proposes that its fishermen use specially marked gear to rule them out as the source of entanglements.

« The best available data on whale sightings, whale behaviour in specific areas, and entanglement data indicate a low probability of right whales interacting with Maine fishing gear, » said Erin Summers, of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, in a proposal to the Take Reduction Team.

Read more stories at CBC Nova Scotia

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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