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October 25, 2012

HSI/Canada Calls on Senate to Reject Baseless Report Recommending a Mass Cull of Grey Seals

Humane Society International/Canada

  • A mass cull of grey seals is not justified. HSI

  • Defenseless baby grey seals are beaten to death. HSI

MONTREAL - Humane Society International/Canada and a member of the Senate Fisheries Committee are urging Senators to reject a controversial report tabled on Oct.23 by the Senate Fisheries Committee. Against overwhelming scientific advice, the report urges the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to reduce the grey seal population in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence by 70,000 animals (a 70 percent reduction in the population). The report also urges the Government of Canada to reassess options for “managing” the grey seal population on Sable Island. Senators will vote on whether to adopt the controversial report, which has been heavily criticized by independent scientists, in the coming days.

“The scientific community has been very clear that a cull of grey seals will not help fish stocks, and in fact could threaten the recovery of vulnerable cod populations off our east coast,” said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of HSI/Canada. “Yet the Fisheries Committee blatantly ignored the scientific evidence and relied on testimony by sealing industry lobbyists. The Committee is recommending that millions of our tax dollars be used to pay commercial fishermen to slaughter seals under the guise of a cull. Such a move would result in unimaginable animal suffering, provide another black eye to Canada’s reputation, and do nothing, whatsoever, to help fish stocks.”

“Despite hearing overwhelming independent scientific evidence that human activity caused and continues to hamper cod stock recovery and that marine mammal culls are both ineffective and risky, my colleagues on the Senate Fisheries and Oceans committee have taken the inexplicable course of recommending a massive grey seal cull that will cost Canadian taxpayers millions of dollars,” said Sen. Mac Harb. “I have called on the government to ignore this ill-conceived report and to instead focus its attention and resources on working with DFO scientists to meet Canada’s national and international commitments to establish recovery targets and sustainable ocean management practices.”

Facts:

  • 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.
  • Culls of grey seals have occurred in the past in many parts of the world, from the U.S. to the U.K., and have had no measurable benefit to fish stocks.
  • The largest predator of fish in the ocean ecosystem is other fish, not marine mammals. Grey seals consume a number of fish species that prey on cod, and reducing grey seal numbers could increase fish predation on cod stocks.
  • The largest concentration of grey seals is located on Sable Island. Cod stocks in this area are considered by government scientists to be recovering.
  • By 1949, grey seals were considered to have been wiped out in Atlantic Canada because of unsustainable sealing. [1] The proposed cull poses a serious threat to the grey seal population in Atlantic Canada.
  • 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 2012 Atlantic cod contributed over $7.6 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]

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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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