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October 23, 2012

HSI/Canada Condemns Senate Support for Politically Motivated Mass Cull of Grey Seals

Humane Society International/Canada

  • Grey seals are once again under threat. HSI/Mark Glover

  • Defenseless baby grey seals are beaten to death. HSI

MONTREAL, Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada, issued the following statement in response to a recommendation by the Canadian Senate to cull grey seals on Canada’s East Coast:

"The Canadian Senate’s recommendation for a massive cull of grey seals off Canada’s East Coast is shameful, reckless and politically motivated. The Senate is playing politics at the expense of science, sound marine conservation principles and the lives of seals.

Having witnessed firsthand defenseless baby grey seals brutally beaten to death by sealers off Cape Breton, I am acutely aware of the cruelty that this proposed kill will involve.

The Senate hearings have been a political charade seeking to justify a globally condemned and scientifically unfounded proposal to cull grey seals. Hearings were dominated by sealing and fur industry lobbyists advocating for government subsidies to support the commercial slaughter of harp seals. The few independent scientists invited to testify echoed the broader scientific community’s position, dismissing the calls for a cull and noting that killing grey seals could threaten the recovery of the damaged ecosystem in the northwest Atlantic."


  • The Senate Fisheries Committee study to evaluate the scientific arguments surrounding a proposed mass cull of grey seals heard from 24 industry representatives, 11 government employees (including four government marine scientists) and one veterinarian who is a director of the Fur Institute of Canada. Disturbingly, only seven independent scientists have testified.
  • By 1949, grey seals were virtually driven to extinction by overhunting off Canada’s East Coast. [1] The proposed cull could put grey seals back on a path to extinction given the current damage to the marine ecosystem (caused by human profligacy and mismanagement).
  • Decades of overfishing and mismanagement by the Canadian government led to the collapse of northern cod off Canada’s east coast. In 1992, a moratorium on cod fishing was declared.[3] Government and fishing industry representatives attempted to blame seals, rather than overfishing, for the collapse.
  • In the late 1990s, Canadian government scientists complained of political suppression of scientific evidence when their reports showed that overfishing – rather than seals – caused the collapse of cod stocks. Today, the scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that human overfishing caused the cod collapse.[4]
  • Despite the moratorium, a number of fishing zones remain open to commercial cod fishing[5] and in 2011 Atlantic cod contributed over $5.7 million to the value of Newfoundland’s fishery.[6] The fishing industry on Canada’s east coast, while openly continuing destructive fishing practices, has attempted to scapegoat seals for dwindling fish stocks. But while there is clear evidence that over-fishing and destructive fishing techniques continue to negatively impact fish stocks,[7] there is no credible scientific evidence to support culling seals.
  • According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website: "Seals eat cod, but seals also eat other fish that prey on cod. There are several factors contributing to the lack of recovery of Atlantic cod stocks such as fishing effort, the poor physical condition of the fish, poor growth, unfavourable ocean conditions and low stock productivity at current levels. It is widely accepted in the scientific community that there are many uncertainties in the estimates of the amount of fish consumed by seals. Seals and cod exist in a complex ecosystem, which mitigates against easy analysis or simple solutions to problems such as the lack of recovery of cod stocks."[8]


Media Contact: Dean Pogas, HSI/Canada: 514-261-6007/514-395-2914; dpogas@hsi.org

Humane Society International/Canada is a leading force for animal protection, representing tens of thousands of members and constituents across the country. HSI Canada has active programs in companion animals, wildlife and habitat protection, marine mammal preservation and farm animal welfare. HSI Canada is proud to be a part of Humane Society International—one of the largest animal protection organizations in the world, with more than 11 million members and constituents globally. On the Web at hsicanada.ca.

[1] Lavigne, D., and K. Kovacs. 1988. Harps and hoods: Ice-breeding seals of the Northwest Atlantic. Waterloo, Canada: University of Waterloo Press.

[3] Woodard, C. 2001. A run on the banks. The Environmental Magazine. March/April: 65.

[4] Hutchings, J.A., C. Walters, and R.L. Haedrich. 1997. Is scientific inquiry incompatible with government information control? Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. 53: 1198--1210. http://www.mun.ca/biology/bgsa/papers/Hutchings_et_al._1997.pdf

[5] Department of Fisheries and Oceans. 2011. Species Quota Report. Newfoundland and Labrador Region. http://www.nfl.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/publications/reports_rapports/Cod_Morue_2011_eng.htm

[6] Department of Fisheries and Oceans. 2011. Landings and Landed Value by Species. Newfoundland and Labrador Region. http://www.nfl.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/publications/reports_rapports/Land_Inshore_Debarquer_cotiere_2011_eng.htm

[7] Hilborn R, Litzinger E (2009) Causes of decline and potential for recovery of Atlantic cod populations. Open Fish Sci J 2:32–38. http://www.benthamscience.com/open/tofishsj/articles/V002/32TOFISHSJ.pdf

[8] Department of Fisheries and Oceans. 2004. Facts about seals 2004-2005. http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/seal-phoque/reports-rapports/facts-faits/facts-faits2004-eng.htm

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