That the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans be instructed to undertake a study on the situation of endangered whales and be mandated to (i) identify steps that could be taken to better protect and help the recovery of right, beluga, and killer whales, (ii) identify immediate and longer term improvements limiting the impact of human activities on each of these species and, by so doing, add to recovery efforts and to recommendations for new or enhanced actions, (iii) call expert witnesses on each of the species, hearing from those who might be impacted by any possible actions, and working to find a balance among various competing claims; and that the Committee present its final report to the House within four months of the adoption of this motion.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House today to present Motion No. 154, my motion to enhance the protection and recovery of Canada's endangered whale species.
New Brunswick Southwest, the riding I am honoured to represent, is situated along the beautiful Bay of Fundy. My interest in the protection and recovery of whales was initially based on my experience locally, and what they mean to us from an ecological, cultural, and economic standpoint.
Whales are the largest and the most intelligent mammals in our oceans. The endangerment of whales is an indication of the state and health of our oceans. The dramatic loss of 17 North Atlantic right whales in 2017 heightened my interest to advocate for their protection and population recovery. With two other whale species at risk, the southern resident killer whale and the St. Lawrence estuary beluga, it became clear that my private member's motion should encompass all of Canada's endangered whale species.
From my riding, in 2017, we tragically lost Joseph Howlett while he was disentangling a North Atlantic right whale. Joe participated in nearly 30 whale rescues over the past 15 years.
As parliamentarians, we also have the unique opportunity to advocate on issues that matter to Canadians and, in this case, to the researchers, whale rescuers, and others who work so tirelessly for the protection and recovery of whales. We know that Canadians from coast to coast to coast are deeply concerned about the long-term protection and recovery of these magnificent mammals.
Currently in Canada, we have a global population of 450 North Atlantic right whales, 900 St. Lawrence estuary belugas, and a southern resident killer whale population of just 76.
Our approach to finding solutions must continue to be driven by research, in collaboration with fishing and marine transportation industries, indigenous communities, the tourism industry, and international stakeholders. The world's leading scientists and others have long worked with marine industries to find a balance that provides maximum protection to whales and minimal disruption to industry.
Over the past six months, I have consulted with over 50 experts and stakeholders across our great country and the United States. Their collective voice is clear. We need to do what Canadians and the global community expect us to do on this issue. Time is of the essence, and we do have the means to meet this challenge.
In New Brunswick Southwest, our marine ecosystem is one of the most vital parts of our economy. When it comes to the environment and the ocean's ecosystem, whales help regulate the flow of food by helping to maintain a stable food chain and ensuring that certain animal species do not overpopulate the ocean. Whales are a sentinel for the health of our ecosystem, and they are sending us a message. Their situation speaks volumes to the long-term sustainability of our ocean industries.
I want to thank the Minister of Fisheries for his immediate and effective leadership last summer on the situation of the right whale. The department acted quickly to implement measures in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to protect these magnificent mammals.
Since that time, the Minister of Fisheries and the Minister of Transport have introduced even more robust measures to protect the North Atlantic right whale, including an earlier start and end to the snow crab fishing season in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence; fixed and temporary closures where whales are spotted; an earlier speed restriction for ships in the western gulf; and dramatic increase in aerial and at-sea surveillance to detect the whales.
Their efforts and new measures, combined with ongoing scientific research and recent investments in marine protection in budget 2018, give us every indication that our government is on the right track.
I want to recognize the work of Dr. Moira Brown and her team at the Canadian Whale Institute. Dr. Brown has been a tireless advocate for the protection of the right whale for over 30 years. Most recently, Dr. Brown has said:
The population decline since 2011 demonstrates that right whales do not have the capacity to sustain low birth rates and high death rates for very long. If mortality rates remain the same as between 2011 and 2015, with so few breeding females alive, the species could become functionally extinct in less than 25 years.
Although there were no new calves born this year, we must remain optimistic that there will be positive outcomes because of the new measures our government has put in place. We have the means to meet this challenge.
Let me give an example. As early as 2007, a study conducted between the Grand Manan Basin and the Roseway Basin determined that reducing vessel speed from 12 knots to 10 knots reduces the risk of a ship strike by 30%, and that in beautiful Bay of Fundy, shifting the shipping lane by four nautical miles to the east reduces the risk of a vessel collision by 90%.
I am convinced that, as we have done with the North Atlantic right whale, similar actions can be taken for the recovery of the beluga and killer whales. In all instances, we need to identify longer-term improvements to limit the impact of human activities on these species.
The situation of the beluga and killer whales is different from that of the North Atlantic right whale. These species tend to be threatened primarily by pollution, noise from shipping, and access to prey. The current population of the St. Lawrence estuary beluga is a mere 900.
Robert Michaud, the president and scientific director of the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals, highlighted this important fact. He said:
The history of other species of cetaceans has taught us that populations can decline from 5,000 individuals to extinction in less than twenty years. With a population of 900, the St. Lawrence belugas urgently need effective measures of protection.
Even more daunting, the current estimated population of the southern resident killer whale is, alarmingly, 76. The range of the southern resident population includes water adjacent to Vancouver, where there is high shipping traffic and other human impacts.
Once again, I would like to recognize the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard for demonstrating our government's commitment to the protection of the southern resident killer whale with the announced $9.1 million in new science funding.
In addition to this, budget 2018 includes $167.4 million over five years to help protect and recover endangered whale species in Canada, notably the southern resident killer whale, the North Atlantic right whale, and the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga. This includes funding for science activities to help better understand factors affecting the health of whale populations, as well as actions to help address the threats arising from human activities.
In a letter of support for this motion, Rick Bates, CEO and executive vice-president of the Canadian Wildlife Federation, said:
A study undertaken by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans will benefit all efforts to conserve our endangered whales by producing an all-party examination of the situation and how it can be improved.
Both immediate and long-term action is required to protect these iconic species. There is no single solution to this problem.
The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans would play an important role in studying the effectiveness of protection and recovery measures to date, hearing from expert witnesses, hearing from those who might be impacted by any possible actions, and working to find a balance among the various stakeholders.
In closing, on a personal note, I would like to dedicate this motion to Joseph Howlett. The dedication of the volunteers and staff who participate in whale disentanglement rescues is inspirational to us all. That is why I am urging members to join me and demonstrate support of Motion No. 154.
In my opinion, as parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to explore every avenue available to us to enhance the protection and recovery of Canada's endangered whale species. I look forward to taking my granddaughter out on a boat in the Bay of Fundy where she, too, will fall in love with the ocean, teaming with minkes, humpbacks, and right whales. Canadians and our future generations deserve nothing less.