The Harbour Porpoise Release Program (HPRP) was developed by the GMWSRS in 1991 to assist local fishermen in the Bay of Fundy, Canada with the safe release of harbour porpoises from their herring weirs. Porpoises become trapped, usually at night, while following schools of herring along the shore. While trapped in a weir, porpoises are able to swim, feed, and breathe, but many do not swim out on their own. The HPRP provides fishermen with an opportunity to remove these animals safely without affecting their herring catch. This process requires the participation of fishermen and the Release Team, resulting in a joint effort that benefits all parties.
Since 1991, we have released more than 700 harbour porpoises from herring weirs around Grand Manan Island. Our success rate is about 94%. The number of porpoises entrapped in weirs can vary greatly from year to year, with as few as 6 (1996) to as many as 312 (2001). The HPRP also provides us with a unique opportunity to conduct research on a wild harbour porpoises and enables us to monitor the health of this population over the long-term.
In eastern Canada, harbour porpoises have been designated as a species of special concern by the Committee on the Status of
Endangered Wildlife in Canada. This designation is the result of the historically high incidental mortality of porpoises in the sink gill net fisheries which operate in the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine as well as the susceptibility of this coast species to negative impacts from development. The HPRP provides an opportunity to reduce the total level of incidental mortality experienced by this population. It also an excellent example of a co-operative effort between fishermen and scientists, working together to save a threatened species.