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Bad Call on the Seal Cull, Senators

Posted: 10/23/2012 2:44 pm

In October 2011, the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans was asked to undertake a study on the Management of Grey Seals in Atlantic Canada. A large part of what the Senate Committee is looking at is culling tens of thousands of grey seals, in addition to the currently sanctioned commercial hunt of grey seals, as a way to supposedly further "manage" the seal population and benefit fish stocks. On Tuesday the Senate Committee recommended a large-scale cull, and in anticipation put together a recap of what the Committee has heard.

The Senate Committee received testimony from a number of witnesses over the past year. Some, like Dr. Jeff Hutchings, were acknowledged world experts in issues concerning marine mammals and fisheries, others less so. The Canadian Sealers Association, for example, freely admitted that grey seals were not their area of expertise and instead decided to talk about harp and hooded seals -- two entirely different species.

Dr. Hutchings, who is a Professor at Dalhousie University and Chair of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on Sustaining Canadian Marine Biodiversity, was clear in his opinion that trying to benefit fisheries is an insufficient reason for a cull. Why? First, the effects of a cull can't be credibly predicted from a scientific perspective. Secondly, the deliberate killing of one species native to Canada because of the human-induced depletion of another native species, is indefensible.

Dr. Hutchings went on to point out that the cod fishery in the Southern Gulf of St Lawrence opened too soon -- and at quotas too high -- to allow the stock any chance of recovery. For over a decade, the Government of Canada has allowed a commercial fishery to take place on cod in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence with catches that fisheries scientists said were unsustainable. Now, they want to place the blame on seals for preventing cod stock recovery.

IFAW's science advisor, Dr. David Lavigne, presented IFAW's position. His testimony noted that there was substantial evidence that grey seals also had positive impacts on other species, and played a key role in the structuring and stabilizing of marine ecosystems. He warned that by removing predators, we change ecosystems, sometimes in ways that are neither anticipated or desired.

Further scientific evidence was presented by a panel of highly-respected biologists from Dalhousie University: Dr. Boris Worm, Dr. Sara Iverson, and Dr. Heike Lotze. The scientists were direct, making three main points: First, that there are numerous examples from around the world of large-scale removals of seals and other marine mammals from ocean ecosystems, and in most of these cases these removals had either unknown or no effects on fish stocks.

It is therefore unlikely that a seal cull in Eastern Canada would have a substantial positive effect on cod populations. Second, that the majority of grey seal diets consists of fatty forage fish such as herring, sand lance, and other small fish, and therefore they would not expect much, if any, benefit of culling seals on cod. Third, studies show that both the depression and recovery of cod in certain areas is explained not by the abundance of seals, but the abundance of forage fish such as herring. Because seals eat mostly forage fish, including herring (which eats young cod), a seal cull could even have a negative effect on the recovery of cod.

Many witnesses saw seals as competitors for fish (Morrow, Cunningham) -- competitors that should be eliminated. This is not surprising. Throughout history, everywhere that seals and fisheries overlap there have been calls to kill seals. What some might find surprising, however, was the fact that even sealers and the associations they represent stated that they were opposed to a seal cull.

In addition to scientists and sealers -- most Canadians are also opposed to a seal cull. In a nation-wide poll recently conducted by Environics research, 73 per cent of Canadians were opposed to a government-sanctioned cull of grey seals.

There was plenty of evidence presented to the Senate Committee that a cull of grey seals would be scientifically risky, unethical, and expensive. Yet, the senate recommended the cull anyway.

WARNING: GRAPHIC


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  • WARNING

    The following slideshow contains potentially graphic images.

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Seal hunters use a hakapik, a club used for killing seals, to kill a seal near their boat in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence March 31, 2008 near Charlottetown, Canada. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Seal hunters skin harp seals on an ice floe March 30, 2001 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    The bodies of harp seals, roughly twenty days old, lie on an ice floe March 27, 2001 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    The carcass of a harp seal, roughly twenty days old, lies on an ice floe March 30, 2001 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    The carcass of a harp seal, roughly twenty days old, lies on an ice floe March 30, 2001 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    The carcass of a harp seal, roughly twenty days old, lies on an ice floe March 30, 2001 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Seal hunters carry dead seals in their boat in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence March 31, 2008 near Charlottetown, Canada. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    A policeman tries to remove female animal-rights activist Ashley Fruno (R), covered with a body-painting to look like the Canadian flag, during her one-woman anti-sealing protest by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) outside the Canadian embassy in Tokyo on March 24, 2010. (TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Animal rights activists, Sir Paul McCartney(R) and then-wife Heather Mills McCartney get up close to a seal pup during a venture onto the ice floes of the Gulf of St-Lawrence before the start of the 2006 seal hunting season in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. (DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Members of the organization for the defense of animals AnimalNaturalis protest naked and painted as bloody seals to protest the seal hunt in Canada on March 15, 2010. (Getty)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Members of the organization for the defense of animals AnimalNaturalis protest naked and painted as bloody seals to protest against the seal hunt in Canada on March 15, 2010. (Getty)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Inuit hunter Pitseolak Alainga (L) explains how the Inuit traditionally hunt seal to Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty outside the Nunavut Legislature in Iqaluit, Canada, February 6, 2010. (GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    An animal-rights activist holds a baseball bat as he stands next to a person wearing a seal costume during a protest against the killing of seals in Canada on March 29, 2010 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Miguel Villagran/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    An animal-rights activist wears a mask depicting the face of a seal during a protest against the killing of seals in Canada on March 29, 2010 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Miguel Villagran/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    People protest in front of the Canadian Consulates, on March 25, 2009 in Nice, south eastern France, to protest against the seal hunt in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Canada. (VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Having recently returned from a trip out to the ice floes to collect seal heart valves for scientific research, local butcher and seal hunter, Rejean Vigneau (R) and AN employee (L) prepare seal meat in his meat shop on March 25, 2008 in the Magdalen Islands of Quebec, Canada. (DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    The Grim Reaper clubs a mock seal to death during a protest by the animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animlas) in Hong Kong, 21 April 2006. (MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images)


 

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