With little fanfare, Canada's Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans released a report this week on Wild Salmon in Eastern Canada. Between Trump and terror attacks, the report is unlikely to receive much media attention. But it is worth noting how despite Liberal promises of "Real Change" and "treating science with respect," when it comes to the political proclivity for killing seals the song remains the same.
The report begins sensibly, acknowledging that the best scientific information suggests an increasing abundance of grey seals is not impacting the recovery of salmon. It then -- illogically -- goes on to recommend a seal cull, stating that the Committee "agrees with the majority of witnesses, and believes that predation is an issue" [emphasis added].
Specifically, the Committee recommended that "Fisheries and Oceans Canada support a grey seal harvest program that emphasizes full utilization of the seal to provide economic opportunities with an aim to significantly reduce the seal populations and enhance the recovery of wild Atlantic salmon populations."
This recommendation shows a blatant and complete disregard for the scientific evidence presented to the Committee concerning the impact of grey seal predation on salmon. Whether or not a politician "believes" in the science should be irrelevant when it comes to responsible fisheries management.
Although the Committee does not quantify how many animals it believes would need to be killed to "significantly reduce the seal populations," there is absolutely no credible argument to suggest that doing so would enhance recovery of wild salmon.
There is neither scientific evidence that grey seals are impacting salmon stocks, nor anything to indicate that a seal cull would improve salmon recovery. In fact, scientists warn that killing off top predators such as seals could make the situation worse, resulting in unexpected and undesired consequences on salmon and other species.
If fisheries policy is to be based on the best available science, whether or not our politicians "believe" the science should not be a factor.
In some respects, the recommendation that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) support a commercial grey seal harvest is immaterial; DFO has already been supporting a grey seal hunt for decades. But despite a current allowable catch of 60,000 animals and ongoing financial support to the industry to develop new products, the reality is there are no markets for dead grey seals and fewer than a thousand animals are killed each year.
It's not for lack of trying. Millions of dollars have been invested, and countless studies conducted, in attempt to appease the fishing industry's demand to kill seals. But three decades of effort to find markets for grey seal products have failed. A recent proposal under consideration by DFO suggested that the most viable market for grey seals was to kill them for their penis and testicles, to be "dried and sold as sexual enhancement products, primarily to Asian buyers." An earlier study commissioned by the government suggested shooting 220,000 grey seals at a taxpayer cost of $35 million, and burning their bodies in incinerators.
If fisheries policy is to be based on the best available science, whether or not our politicians "believe" the science should not be a factor. The recommendation for a cull of grey seals is not supported by any scientific evidence, and to suggest that killing seals will enhance salmon recovery is dishonest.
Seals, salmon, and science will all suffer if the a grey seal cull is implemented. It will now be up to Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc to uphold his government's commitment to science by rejecting the recommendation for a grey seal cull. The question is, will he?
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