Mr. Speaker, our government relies on the scientific expertise of our fisheries biologists and researchers to ensure the effective management, sustainable development, and protection of our aquatic resources.
Our government has ensured that funding to science has remained consistent in recent years. DFO has made a number of important investments, such as refurbishment of over a dozen laboratories, construction of three science vessels for the Coast Guard, mapping of the continental shelf for Canada's UNCLOS submission, support to commercial fishing in the Arctic, research to support a sustainable aquaculture sector, and research on oil spill behaviour and effects.
I would be remiss if I did not mention one of my favourite programs, the recreational fisheries conservation partnerships program, which provides $25 million to work with local communities to improve, protect, and enhance fisheries habitat. The funds will be expended on some 400 fisheries conservation projects across the country, surely a remarkable achievement.
Our government is committed to making sure this science is accessible to Canadians and that our record is solid. For example, over the past two years, DFO scientists participated in more than 600 media interviews in addition to approximately 1,000 science-based media inquiries in writing. That is some muzzling.
As well, DFO issues approximately 300 publications each year, documenting science advice and government research for the management of Canada's fisheries and oceans, and our government will continue to make decisions based on the best science available and ensure that it is accessible to Canadians.
A key component of DFO's science program is the peer review process. This is a fundamental principle that allows scientists to thoroughly challenge and validate scientific information and associated conclusions.
At DFO there is a rigorous peer review process in place. DFO's Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat coordinates the peer review of all scientific advice for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. This process is transparent, as all of DFO's science advice is published to its website and made publicly available to Canadians.
DFO is well aware of the importance of the St. Lawrence beluga, most notably for the tourism and whale-watching industries.
Belugas in Canadian waters have been grouped into seven populations, and six of them live in the Arctic. I should note that in my home province of Manitoba, every summer thousands of belugas gather in the Churchill River. I would recommend to members, if they have the opportunity, to go and see this remarkable natural sight. The remaining beluga population lives in the St. Lawrence Estuary.
The beluga is a typical cold-water marine mammal. It has a long life expectancy, bears young at an older age, and produces relatively few young. An adult beluga can weigh up to 1,900 kilograms and grow to between 2.5 and 4.5 metres in length.
The beluga whale is a predator. Its diet consists of many species of fish and invertebrates. In the St. Lawrence estuary, there are a number of key species available to it as prey, including Atlantic herring, sand lance, squid, capelin, Atlantic cod, hake, and redfish.
Our government has done and will continue to do considerable work on the beluga whale and on the St. Lawrence population in particular. For example, fisheries researchers do regular monitoring and assessment of this population. As recently as the fall of 2013, DFO scientists have been reviewing the status of the population. To continue work on studying this population, DFO conducted a population survey in the summer of 2014, and the results will be available in 2015. This information will allow DFO scientists to track any possible trends in population growth or decline.
When a population assessment is completed, DFO scientists also look at the various factors that may affect the population. These factors include food availability and environmental conditions.
This is clearly a complex ecosystem, which is why DFO scientists are working on important research questions to increase our knowledge of this species. DFO has also supported a long-term necropsy program for beluga whales conducted by the University of Montreal. This information will allow DFO to better understand the cause of any beluga mortality, and any results will be considered in future DFO science advice.
Conscious of the importance of achieving recovery objectives for the St. Lawrence beluga and conscious that a growing and healthy population is key to the species' recovery, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans initiated a research project to investigate the birth rate in wild female beluga. To support management decisions, DFO scientists analyze the most recent data available and, to the best of their ability, aim to provide the best available science advice, using their data and the data of others, while at the same time factoring in uncertainty.
Over the years, DFO scientists have produced dozens of scientific publications on the St. Lawrence beluga covering all aspects of its biology, such as its distribution, abundance, population trends, diet, key habitat use, cause of mortality, recovery potential, and many more. In addition, DFO scientists, as well as many researchers from other federal departments and academia, have added and continue to add to our knowledge of the St. Lawrence ecosystem and factors affecting it. This information is accessible and used by DFO when providing advice related to the beluga whale.
Our government is focused on taking real action to protect beluga whales. Last spring, based on DFO's expert advice, strict conditions and mitigation measures were given to TransCanada to adhere to in order to undertake exploratory drilling and seismic testing.
Such conditions included a requirement for an exclusion zone of 500 metres, meaning that all work was required to stop if a whale was observed in this area. Beyond 500 metres, the sound level is too low to cause harm to marine mammals.
Another important condition with regard to seismic work was to cease operations by April 30, before the whales return to the area.
We have been clear that we are focused on ensuring that projects are safe for Canadians and the environment. Based on the expert science advice available, our government set strict conditions for work and ensured they were followed. The science work done at DFO on the beluga whale is substantial, and our government is confident in the quality and value of this work. The work is transparent and available to all Canadians, either in publications and science journals or on the DFO website.
Today I have demonstrated the critical role that expert transparent advice has with our government when it comes to the management of fisheries. This expert science is the backbone of all management decisions taken. DFO will continue to add to Canada's understanding of the St. Lawrence beluga population and the factors affecting it in order to ensure that this species continues to thrive for the enjoyment of future generations of Canadians.