At a press conference on November 1, 2016, Nature Québec and CPAWS Quebec call for a beluga strategy in response to the maritime strategy. Alain Branchaud, Executive Director of CPAWS Quebec, and Mr. Christian Simard, Executive Director of Nature Québec, invite the Governments of Canada and Quebec to rethink maritime development in order to integrate new protective measures for the endangered beluga whale. They are accompanied by two experts, Robert Michaud, president of the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) and Michel Bélanger, president of the Quebec Environmental Law Centre (CQDE).
Press release, Nature Québec and CPAWS Quebec, November 1, 2016
No Maritime Strategy without a Beluga Strategy” Warn Nature Québec and CPAWS Quebec
“The governments of Quebec and Canada cannot flesh out a maritime or economic development strategy on the St. Lawrence without integrating a beluga strategy upstream” warns Christian Simard of Nature Québec and Alain Branchaud of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS Quebec). “Governments and economic players must take account of a new fact of life: the St. Lawrence beluga has been uplisted from threatened to endangered and adoption of tough new protection measures for its vital habitat is imminent.”
The groups feel compelled to take action in light of the rapid materialization of certain infrastructure projects under Quebec’s new Maritime Strategy and the development of certain federal port authorities. They cite in particular the future industrial port zone of Cacouna, which would be located in the heart of the beluga nursery, and the two new port infrastructure projects in the Upper Saguenay, which would effectively double maritime traffic on the waterway within 4 years.
The seaway passes through a significant portion of the belugas’ critical habitat. All marine development in the St. Lawrence will ultimately have an impact on this already heavily affected area. For Robert Michaud, beluga specialist at the GREMM, “it is essential to ensure that calm areas (which serve as “acoustic shelters” for belugas) such as the Saguenay and the Cacouna area in the Estuary’s South Channel remain so.”
Toward a Beluga Strategy
Nature Québec and CPAWS Quebec invite the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec to work with environmental organizations and economic actors in order to quickly implement a beluga strategy. First and foremost, they propose to establish new protected areas in the St. Lawrence Estuary in order to bolster the resilience of species and ecosystems and to ensure the presence of acoustic shelters for belugas.
This strategy should also include significant improvements to key conservation and management measures concerning the portion of critical habitat lying within the current boundaries of the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park.
“The roadmap that we are proposing toward a beluga strategy entails integrating the scientific and environmental communities into any decision-making related to marine strategy and expanding the consultation and public participation processes. Development of the St. Lawrence should not be decided behind closed doors while marginalizing the protection of belugas and ecosystems” emphasizes Christian Simard, Executive Director of Nature Québec.
The roadmap is also based on compliance with the Species at Risk Act (Canada) and the Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species (Quebec). To this end, on May 14 Fisheries and Oceans Canada published in the Canada Gazette a draft ministerial order on the protection of the habitat considered critical for the St. Lawrence beluga. Under the Species at Risk Act, the adoption of a ministerial order under Section 58 of the Act indicates that the measures currently in place to protect the species’ critical habitat are inadequate. “The case law is clear… the legal safeguards in place should enable the objectives of the Act to be attained and thus ensure the conditions for the species’ recovery”, points out Alain Branchaud, Executive Director of CPAWS Quebec. “The implementation of legal safeguards must also be done within a reasonable timeframe. If the ministerial order had been adopted as per the schedule stipulated by SARA, the TransCanada oil terminal saga in Cacouna could have been avoided”, added Michel Bélanger, specialist in environmental law.
In conclusion, Nature Québec and CPAWS Quebec invite all those who take an interest in the Maritime Strategy to be attentive to the message being shouted from the crow’s nest: Iceberg ahead!
To learn more:
Status of belugas, Species at Risk Act, and roadmap to a beluga strategy (in French), prepared by Nature Québec and CPAWS Quebec