The Senate’s fisheries committee‘s endorsement of a grey seal cull in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is good news to many fishermen however conservationists are up in arms.
Many fishermen would welcome a cull on grey seals, as proposed by the Senate’s fisheries committee.
The Sierra Club Canada is appalled by the recommendation and says there is testimony from independent scientists that a slaughter could damage ocean ecosystems.
“This is nothing more than a subsidy for a dead industry,” said executive director John Bennett.
“No grey seals were killed this year and only 200 pelts were sold in 2011. The markets are gone because people no longer support seal slaughters.”
He says taxpayers will foot the bill for the grey seal slaughter, estimated by some groups to be as much as $35 million or more.
The senate committee announced its support last week in Ottawa.
Denny Morrow, former executive director of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association and the founding president of the now defunct Grey Seal Development and Research Society, appeared before the senate committee during its study of the issue.
He’s been a champion of seal culling for many years and knows the impact these predators have on the fishing industry.
In 2010 he told the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council that seals are behind the closure of fishing plants and the loss of workers to other parts of Canada.
“The senate report seems to document a growing consensus in the scientific community that grey seals have had a huge impact on cod stocks and our ability to rebuild them. Not just in the Gulf of St. Lawrence but on the Scotian Shelf as well,” said Morrow.
Several years ago the Grey Seal Development and Research Society received funding from the government towards training fishermen to be sealers and developing products and markets from grey seals that would support profitable harvesting and processing.
In 2004 the society applied to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for a seal quota. This was set at 10,000 to cover 2005 – 2007.
The Society did receive an order for two sea containers of frozen grey seal meat from China during its years of operation.
Although the federal government does set an annual quota for grey seals now, it’s difficult to find licensed hunters.
Since the early 1980's, the grey seal herd on Sable Island has increased from about 30,000 animals to 300,000.
Morrow says that fisheries department scientists Mike Sinclair and Bob O’Boyle published a paper last year in an international scientific journal. They say that the biggest reason behind the cod stocks collapse on the Eastern Scotian Shelf was the explosion in the grey seal population.
“They also took the position that you would not see rebuilding,” said Morrow.
The grey seal population has been moving westward as it expands, he says.
“There are new seal breeding colonies off southwestern Nova Scotia. Fishermen are seeing “more and more grey seals in more and more places.”
“Frankly, my belief is that governments have decided to let the chips fall where they may. The seal population is too big. They’ve decided that it would be too costly on a number of fronts for them to do anything.
“The importance of this is it’s good information for countries like Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Scotland where they are doing them to keep the population down,” he said.
Bennett says there are other reasons for the demise of fish stocks.
“Greed, government mismanagement, ocean pollution and climate change have all contributed to the overall destruction of the marine environment and the collapse of commercial fish stocks. Continuing to ravage nature is not the solution.”
The European Union has commissioned a study with a view to allow commercial sealing in its member states, despite an existing ban on seal products from Canada.