“No Credible Scientific Evidence” for Seal Cull in Canada

Written by on November 15, 2012 in Marine Life, Policy & Ocean Law
Atlantic cod.

Atlantic cod. Photo credit: Gilbert van Ryckevorsel, NOAA.

In October, the Canadian Government approved a plan to cull 70,000 gray seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in hopes of reviving depleted cod stocks.

The Senate’s standing committee on fisheries and oceans supported “the logic of the proposed experimental reduction of grey seals in this area” and acknowledged (but ignored) “the ecological risks raised by some witnesses.”

The cull was suggested in the first place because the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) claims that the seals are preventing the Gulf cod stocks from recovering.  Canada’s Atlantic cod stocks collapsed in the 1990s as a result of overfishing.  Since then, there has been almost a complete ban on cod fishing, but stocks have not recovered.

Grey seals are being blamed for this because their population is increasing.  In the 1970s there were only a few thousand grey seals left, due to hunting.  Since the seal fur market collapsed, their population as rebounded and there are now 300,000 to 400,000 individuals.

A group of scientists from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, are arguing that a cull will not revive the cod stocks.  They wrote an open letter saying that the cull would be “a waste of valuable resources and animal lives.”

“One cannot credibly predict from a science perspective whether a cull of grey seals would have a positive impact on cod or negative impact on cod…or no impact whatsoever,” said Jeff Hutchings, a biologist at Dalhousie.

Gray seal pup, only a few days old.

Gray seal pup, only a few days old. Photo credit: Andreas Trepte.

“It’s not a two-species ecosystem.  It’s a multi-species ecosystem.”

Reports from the DFO note that cod represents and estimated one to seven percent of seal diets, but the Senate committee still believes predation by seals is major reason for the lack of cod recovery.

Scientists, however, believe that the reason cod stocks haven’t recovered is because other species have taken over their role.

Hal Whitehead, a marine biologist at Dalhousie, explained that “northern shrimp have taken over and are now the big fishery in the region.”

Grey seal.

Grey seal. Photo credit: Meghann Murray, NOAA/NEFSC.

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Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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