VANCOUVER — A commercial fisherman who tossed a small explosive into water teeming with sea lions off the coast of British Columbia says he wasn't trying to hurt the creatures.
The video prompted strong responses both for and against when it was posted to social media. It has since been taken down.
Allan Marsden said he used the "bear banger," a flare that emits a gunshot style noise, to scare the sea lions away from his boat.
"This was not a case of going out there and trying to kill all the sea lions," Marsden said in an interview on Friday.
Since it was posted to the Facebook page of the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society earlier this week, a debate has erupted over the safety of sea lions and other creatures, as well as the safety of fishing crews struggling to make a living in challenging times.
The society says it is trying to save salmon stocks by lobbying for a commercial harvest of harbour seals and sea lions on the west coast. Several scientists have disputed the claim that culling pinnipeds would help salmon stocks and warn that a cull would have consequences for the complex food web.
Marsden said there's a double standard if someone fishing on a river can use a banger to scare a bear, but he can't do the same at sea.
I was trying to figure out a way we could work out there with those lions. So I was trying to figure out how long I had from the time I set the net, because I know when the sea lions show up the chance of me getting fish is zero, it's absolutely zero.Allan Marsden, fisherman
Three years ago, he said he was attacked by a sea lion while working on his boat.
"I'm lucky that I didn't get dragged over the rail and drowned or end up in a wheelchair, but I'll have marks on my body until the day I die from a sea lion that latched on to me when I was working on deck," he said.
In this case, Marsden said he was trying to collect herring samples to monitor stocks and roe when the sea lions surrounded his boat. He set off the device, then drove his boat at high speed and stopped 2.5 kilometres away.
Marsden said he wanted to time how long it took for the sea lions to catch up as he tried to set his nets down again. It took seven minutes.
He said he's disappointed that a second video wasn't shared showing the sheer number of sea lions entering his net.
"I was trying to figure out a way we could work out there with those lions. So I was trying to figure out how long I had from the time I set the net, because I know when the sea lions show up the chance of me getting fish is zero, it's absolutely zero," he said.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada investigating
Since the video has been shared, Marsden said he has received threats.
Thomas Sewid, vice president of the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society, posted the video and an explanation that says "massive" numbers of sea lions that dive on schools of herring keep the fish deep in the water, preventing fishermen from making a living.
He said seals and sea lions also have the potential to spook large schools of already netted herring, causing the fish to dive. When large numbers of fish are all moving in the same direction, he said they have the combined strength to flip and sink a large boat.
"Yes, we have lost many fellow fishers when seiners capsize. My great uncle drowned not 10 years ago in the Gulf of Georgia when this happened during a snowy night of herring fishing," Sewid said in his post.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada said it would investigate and it reminded the public it is illegal to disturb seals, sea lions or other marine mammals.
"This includes the use of acoustic deterrents such as seal bombs or other explosives," it said on a social media post.
Sewid said he is merely "cannon fodder" in the battle for a legal hunt on California sea lions, adding the society is "trying to educate" Fisheries officials about the threat posed by pinnipeds.
We need a seal harvest because it's so important to so many people in British Columbia because salmon is so valuable. It's not just fish. It's a life. It's our life.Thomas Sewid, Pacific Balance Pinniped Society
Sewid questioned the restriction on the use of the explosive devices.
"What's wrong with the world? How come a fishermen uses a little firecracker trying to keep the crew safe and everyone is up in arms, yet (hikers or campers) can whack a bear, a coyote, a badger, a cougar, a wolf with bear bangers all day long and no one says a damn thing," he said in a telephone interview on Friday.
Critical comments have been posted on Sewid's Facebook page, but he said he won't stop trying to "find common ground."
"We need a seal harvest because it's so important to so many people in British Columbia because salmon is so valuable. It's not just fish. It's a life. It's our life."
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