Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from New Brunswick Southwest for allowing me to share her time and speak to this important motion.
I would like to acknowledge my colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith for her comments on the whales in her part of the country.
As members know, I am from the other part of this magnificent country. I am a proud Newfoundlander and Labradorian. Our province has had a history with the fishery because of our coastline. We are a people of the sea. Many folks look at a map and ask me why hundreds of small rural communities are spread along the coast. It is because of the sea, the fishery, and our connection to it. It has been the backbone of our economy for years and is still a very important way of life that many people are proud to have. However, we have seen the fishery change over the years. We are going from quantity to quality in some species. Other species are being impacted by environment, habitat, predation, food sources, and elements at sea, and it is on this that I would like to speak today.
It is important to note that while historically the presence of the North American right whale has been a rare occurrence off the shores of the Long Range Mountains, this past year four right whale carcasses washed up on the shoreline of my riding. The presence of these carcasses in our waters goes to demonstrate the changing patterns of these marine creatures. It is a clear indication that something is changing, and we have to do our best to reverse it.
It is absolutely critical that we take more action to help save these whale populations. This goal is a feasible one. By simply reducing vessel speed from 12 knots to 10 knots, we can reduce the risk of a ship strike by 30%.
Since the deaths of the whales began coming to light this past year, both the Minister of Fisheries and the Minister of Transport have been working to implement measures to preserve the population of the endangered North American right whale. Even this past weekend, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced that it would be temporarily closing various fishing areas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence due to right whale sightings in the area.
These simple reactionary decisions are important to ensure the protection of these mammals. However, we have to do more. As important as these simple changes are to help preserve our oceans, more information and collaboration are needed if we hope to improve the whale population in the long term.
As I mentioned, the constituents in my riding of the Long Range Mountains rely heavily on the oceans and the fishery. With over 1,200 kilometres of coastline in my riding, a healthy marine ecosystem is of the utmost importance, and whales are one of the key factors in enhancing and maintaining that ecosystem.
In 2017, we were struck by 17 deaths of North American right whales in Atlantic Canada. This number is alarming, especially when we consider that the total global population of this species is less than 450. With mortality rates as they currently are, this species is at risk of becoming extinct within 25 years. Although monitoring the lifespan of the right whale has proven difficult for scientists, studies have suggested that these mammals can live for at least 75 years. However, of the whales that were found dead last year, at least five of them were determined to be under the age of 20. Necropsies done on these whales have suggested that their deaths were not from natural causes, but rather the result of some level of human intervention.
The North American right whale has been listed as endangered since 2005. The species is especially at risk due to human activity, as they tend to live near the populated coast of North America. Some of the greatest risks to the species include vessel collision, entanglement in fishing gear, disturbance from vessels, and acoustic disturbances.
Food supply for the larger animals in the marine ecosystem has been shifting as well. Due to the decline of food stocks, species such as whales have had to alter their migratory paths to find a sufficient supply. This has resulted in some species, such as the North American right whale, becoming more susceptible to human-induced mortality. With these creatures shifting more and more into areas that are frequently used by humans, the risk of them coming into contact with boats and fishing gear increases dramatically.
In the Long Range Mountains, we know first-hand the importance of maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem. Due to neglect of the preservation of cod and salmon for decades, we are now in a position where everything we do in terms of preservation is reactionary. This study on the situation of endangered whales would be a proactive move toward protecting the members of the species that are left, and would work toward rebuilding the population for the generations to come.
Throughout history, the North American right whale has demonstrated an ability to come back and revive, even when its population has been critically low. However, this time it is different. This time, the critical threat to these species comes from human intervention. This time, it is critically important that humans work to prevent further deaths of the whales and take into consideration their changing patterns.
To be effective in this goal, we must hear from experts in the field, as well as individuals in the industry, the people on the ground and on the waters who will be directly affected by any changes that are implemented. We must work hard with stakeholders and experts to ensure that while we move towards improving and protecting our oceans and whales, we also minimize disruption to the industry.
We also must be aware that a group of U.S. senators have suggested that Canadian seafood should be banned from U.S. markets if Canadian standards are found to be less protective of whales than the U.S. fisheries. This committee study, which will come as a result of this motion, will allow us to ensure that all interests are balanced while we work towards preserving the marine ecosystem.
Time is of the essence when it comes to this issue. We cannot continue to lose members of this species and act later. We have a chance to be proactive and not reactive, and that is exactly what this study will do.