Madam Speaker, I am proud to support Motion No. 154, introduced by my colleague, the member for New Brunswick Southwest. Her advocacy on such an important topic is certainly to be commended.
On a personal note, my family used to travel out east to Nova Scotia every summer to visit my uncle, aunt, and cousins, and we would usually camp for an extended period of time in Cape Breton, and along the way to Nova Scotia. We would enjoy different adventures along the way, including whale-watching. As a kid, I was able to see beluga whales and humpback whales in the St. Lawrence at Tadoussac, and I would like to think that others will continue to have that same opportunity. I would like to think that our government will take sufficient action so that I would be able to travel with my wife and my son, Mackinlay, out east to Nova Scotia and go whale-watching as well.
I want to thank the hundreds of constituents who have written to me about the importance of protecting our whale populations here in Canada. Many constituents, for example, wrote to me requesting that our government act to protect the southern resident killer whales and to take emergency action. In their letters, they noted that there is a large risk of southern resident orca extinction in this century if conditions remain unchanged. In their words to us as representatives, and to our government, they say, “The extinction of these whales, and many other endangered species in Canada, is a tragedy that you have the power to prevent.”
Many constituents have also written to me in support of Bill S-203, which would put an end to the captivity of cetaceans, and I look forward to supporting that legislation when it comes to the House. Senator Sinclair recently spoke eloquently on this topic, saying, “Cetaceans possess intelligence, emotions, social lives that include extremely close bonds to their families, complex communication skills and roaming lifestyles.”
I would put it this way: We should treat all animals that think and feel with respect and compassion, and that means giving adequate consideration to how human activities affect animal habitats and lives.
There are a number of whales addressed in this motion, and I want to address each in turn, beginning with the North Atlantic right whale. Many of us remember the epidemic of whales dying along the coast last year. For the first time ever, the North Atlantic right whales' calving season has produced no babies, and this is after almost 20 whales died off the east coast.
Dr. Moira Brown, from the Canadian Whale Institute, has stated:
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.
Others have noted that there are only 100 breeding female right whales left, and 17 scientists wrote last year to our Prime Minister, noting:
What is required now is bold and swift action to reduce fishing gear entanglements and ship strikes. We urge you to take seriously the warning signs of an impending extinction.
As my colleague from New Brunswick Southwest noted in her remarks:
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%.
The government proposed a recovery action plan in 2016, and this motion would be incredibly important to assess the actions under that plan.
With respect to the St. Lawrence estuary belugas, the very belugas I was able to see as a kid, the Department of Fisheries notes that, “before 1885, there were as many as 10,000 belugas in the St. Lawrence Estuary and Gulf. In the 1980s, when regular monitoring began, the population was estimated to be around 1,000 individuals.” Today, that population is estimated at only 900. Commercial whaling, just as it depleted the right whales, has also depleted the beluga whales population severely. Although whaling for belugas has been banned since 1979, there has been no noticeable recovery in the population.
A number of factors are to blame for the decline of the species, such as reduced food sources, disturbance by humans, and habitat degradation, but principally ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. There is a recovery strategy under the Species at Risk Act for the beluga whale, posted and developed in 2012. Again, this motion is about assessing these plans and what further actions need to be taken.
With respect to the southern resident killer whale, this is the species about which I received so many letters from constituents. My constituents repeatedly noted they were concerned that there are only an estimated 76 southern resident orcas remaining in the Salish Sea waterways, down from 98 in 1995.
A number of organizations—Ecojustice, the David Suzuki Foundation, and World Wildlife Fund, among others—noted that faced with declining stocks of Chinook salmon, their primary source of food, and acoustic and physical disturbance from vessels, which interferes with their ability to hunt and communicate, the southern residents are at serious risk of malnutrition and starvation.
Our government has again taken some actions here. Most recently, in the last day, our government took action to reduce fishing of the Chinook salmon to ensure that there is adequate food supply for the southern resident killer whales. Of course, in the oceans protection plan, a $1.5 billion investment in the health of our oceans and the safety of those who use them, there was a specific reference and focus on three species of endangered whales: the right whale, the beluga, and the southern resident killer whale. Scientists are going to review how effective our current measures are and report their findings to the public, and there will be continued consultations in terms of the best way forward for protecting these species.
More specifically, under that oceans protection plan, we have seen new science funding to develop and test technologies that alert vessels to the presence of whales, lowering the risk of collisions. DFO has noted that in response to requests from a number of stakeholders for better ways to protect whales, DFO researchers will work with partners to develop and test various technologies able to detect the presence of whales in near-real time, such as underwater microphones, coupled with networks that track whale sightings. The goal is to capture near-real time information on whales in specific areas and on whale location.
The department recently hosted a meeting of Canadian and international experts to discuss various technologies, and the group will continue to do work to improve measures to protect whales. Again, there is $3.1 million for research projects, including for the University of British Columbia, to examine the effect of changes to the supply and quality of Chinook salmon, their source of food, and Ocean Wise will study the impact environmental stressors are having on whales, such as noise and limits on prey.
The minister has said that we are going to make a series of decisions that may necessarily represent some disruption for certain sectors, but will be guided by scientific advice and our solemn responsibility to ensure the protection and recovery of southern resident killer whales.
Why this motion in particular? The motion calls for the fisheries committee to study the situation of endangered whales, to identify steps that could be taken to continue efforts to protect and conserve the whale populations, to identify immediate and longer-term improvements that would limit the impact of human activities on each of these species, to call expert witnesses to find a balance among competing claims, and to present a final report by the end of 2018.
ln a letter of support for this motion, Rick Bates, CEO and executive vice-president of the Canadian Wildlife Federation said that 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.”
Dr. Moira Brown from the Canadian Whale Institute notes that if mortality rates remain the same as between 2011 and 2015, with so few breeding females alive, the right whale could become functionally extinct in less that 25 years if we do not take action.
Michael Broad, president of the Shipping Federation of Canada, said the organization supports the overall objectives of this proposed motion and is strongly interested in bringing forward industry's perspective on risk management actions.
Why is this important, for me in particular, and why am I standing up? It is important. Canadians in my riding and across the country have called for strong conservation measures to protect our whale populations. While the government's actions to date are important and welcome, it is also important to assess whether the government's actions are sufficient to meet our goals. That is certainly the work of the fisheries committee.
Finally, it is important to maintain pressure to produce even stronger action. My hope is that when the study is undertaken and the report is delivered by the end of the year, we can identify where there are successes and where we need to continue to move on this issue. My hope is that the report will provide clear evidence of the need for further action and that the government will heed that call.
We have an opportunity to do what is right. Rare in this House, we also have an opportunity to do what is right in a non-partisan way. I fully expect all members in this chamber to support this motion, and I fully expect the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to produce a unanimous report to address this timely and important topic.
On a final note, oceans protection is important to all of us. I know plastics are a serious issue to that end. I want to invite all members and all constituents in Beaches—East York to attend a screening provided by the Water Brothers on July 10 in my riding at the Fox Theatre at 7 p.m. I hope to see all my constituents there.