Mr. Speaker, today I am speaking on behalf of our critic for fisheries and oceans, the member for Cariboo—Prince George. I would like to extend my condolences and those of our caucus to him on the loss of his mother-in-law.
Motion No. 154 is sponsored by the Liberal member for New Brunswick Southwest. The endangered right whales have been dying in record numbers in the past year in Canada. In 2017, of a population of approximately 450 whales, at least 13 perished in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The Gulf of St. Lawrence is not a normal habitat for the right whales. Their arrival last summer took many by surprise. It resulted in Transport Canada imposing a 10-knot limit on vessels 20 metres or more in length. We need to look at ship movement in our oceans and waterways.
The cruise lines have co-operated with these new limits, basically to avoid killing whales and to protect this endangered species. In addition to the 10-knot limit, the cruise ship companies were required to count the number of right whales they saw each day. With the ships slowing down, their crews may be able to count the whales so we know how many are left and how many we are losing. The cruise ships have to report the location of the whales to the government on a regular basis.
It is clear that this is not enough. That is why Motion No. 154 calls for a study in order to find a solution to this situation. Action needs to be taken immediately. Not only should there be a study, but we need to take action. Hopefully the result of the committee report will give us that opportunity to do so.
Right whales have been dying in record numbers. In 2017 at least 13 were lost from a community of 450 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Almost all the North Atlantic whales in the western North Atlantic Ocean in summer and autumn feed in areas off the coast of Canada and the northeastern United States in an area stretching from New York to Newfoundland. It is quite a journey along the east coast for these whales.
In particular, the popular feeding areas are the Bay of Fundy and Cape Cod Bay. In winter they head south toward Georgia and Florida to give birth. They go to warmer places during the winter to give birth to maintain the population.
The leading cause of death among the North Atlantic right whale, which migrates through some of the world's busiest shipping lanes while journeying off the east coast of the United States and Canada, is being struck by ships. Unfortunately, that is the main reason for the loss in population in the course of time.
At least 16 ship strike deaths were reported between 1970 and 1999, and probably more remain unreported. Records show 16 ship strike deaths in a period of 29 years. That activity should be looked at and monitored.
A second major cause of morbidity and mortality among the north Atlantic right whale is entanglement in plastic fishing gear. Right whales ingest plankton with wide-open mouths, risking entanglement in any rope or net fixed in the water column. Rope wraps around their upper jaws, flippers, and tails. Some are able to escape, but others remain tangled. If they can get the proper help, they can be saved. Again, the possibilities for saving or monitoring that closely are not always there.
In July 1997, the U.S. introduced the Atlantic large whale take reduction plan, which seeks to minimize whale entanglement in fishing gear and to record large whale sightings in an attempt to estimate numbers and distribution. Action is being taken by the United States to study the problem and to look for solutions if possible.
Researchers are still working to pin down how the whales in Canada died. At least three appear to have been hit by ships, and one perished after becoming entangled in fishing gear.
In 2014, researchers monitoring belugas in the St. Lawrence warned of catastrophic disaster if something was not done to stop the population decline. Records show that we are losing these as well. The number of belugas has gone from 1,000 to 889. What we are looking at in Canada is going below the 500 mark. We are losing this population, and we must do something about it.
At this point, there is not enough evidence and information from researchers to show us the exact number and the exact data on what is happening. An exact count of beluga whales in the St. Lawrence estuary is not there. As I said, the population was estimated to be about 889 in 2012. That is according to a recent Fisheries and Oceans Canada report. When I say recent, I am not sure if it was in 2017-18 or before that.
Motion No. 154 calls on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to undertake a study of the situation of endangered whales and to report the study back to the House of Commons within four months. Hopefully, four months will be enough time for the committee to do a study and call witnesses, researchers, and scientists to find some solutions.
The motion calls on the committee 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.
I am pleased to say that we will support the motion, and we look forward to studying the issue at committee.