A hunter heads towards a harp seal during the annual East Coast seal hunt in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence around Quebec’s Iles de la Madeleine, March 25, 2009. Sealers are calling for more commercial licences - and even a possible cull - to protect fragile caplin and northern cod stocks from an upsurge in seal populations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Seal hunters call for cull in Atlantic Canada

Authorities estimate there are about 7.4 million Northwest Atlantic harp seals that are eating up fragile stocks of caplin and northern cod

Hungry East Coast seal populations have surged in recent decades, spurring calls for an increased seal hunt — and even a possible cull — to protect fragile caplin and northern cod stocks.

“If you don’t protect the ecosystem in controlling some of the top predators in the food chain, then something’s going to go out of whack,” said Eldred Woodford, president of the Canadian Sealers Association.

The Northwest Atlantic harp seal population is estimated at about 7.4 million animals — almost six times what it was in the 1970s, according to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Grey seal numbers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence have grown from about 5,000 animals in 1960 to an estimated 98,000 in 2014, according to the department.

The number of commercial sealing licences, meanwhile, has plunged in Newfoundland to 4,558 last year from 11,146 in 2009, say preliminary federal statistics.

It’s time the federal government considered a cull on seals, Woodford said in an interview.

“Certainly we’re going to have to start entertaining it and looking at it.”

Woodford said he never wanted to promote the practice of killing harp or grey seals outright for the sake of limiting their respective effects on caplin and northern cod stocks.

“I felt it would be a shame to destroy a natural, renewable resource for the sole fact of controlling the population. We should be controlling it with a commercial activity where the people could utilize the animals and gain some benefit from the resource.”

Only about 70,000 harp seals were landed from the 2017 quota of 400,000, Woodford said, a trend of low harvests over the last several years. The price has hovered around $35 for the highest quality pelts, far below heady values of three times that much seen before international markets dried up over the last 15 years.

Animal rights groups drew celebrity support from the likes of Paul McCartney and Jude Law in sustained campaigns against commercial sealing. They say it’s an unnecessary cruelty propped up with government support that should be redirected.

Proponents says it’s a humane, sustainable and regulated hunt that’s unfairly targeted compared to the pork, poultry and other domestic meat sectors.

Countries which ban imported seal products now include the U.S., Mexico, Europe, Russia and Taiwan.

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc is expected to make an announcement soon on the northern cod fishery. Stocks collapsed off Newfoundland and Labrador before a sweeping commercial moratorium threw thousands of people out of work in 1992. They had been slowly recovering but the latest updates suggest a 30-per-cent drop over last year.

Fisheries scientists point to natural mortality fluctuations.

Fishermen have long complained that grey seals rely on cod for a good portion of their diets, while harp seals eat vast amounts of caplin — the small fish that help sustain cod and several other species.

LeBlanc said last week in the House of Commons that seals are a “significant challenge” with no easy solutions.

Officials in his department, however, said in an emailed response that no drastic population measures are imminent.

“The department is not considering a seal cull at this time.”

Nor is it planning to lift a freeze on new commercial sealing licences in Atlantic Canada imposed 15 years ago when prices were high and there were many new entrants.

“The freeze on new commercial sealing licencing will remain in effect for the 2018 season,” it said.

Fisheries officials plan to discuss next moves on that issue with harvesters throughout the region this fall when the Atlantic Seals Advisory Committee meets.

Woodford said the number of active sealers has dropped in part because many with licences aged out of the industry.

“We’ve got to reopen it and allow the younger blood back into the game.”

Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Isles end 2018 in fine form, excited for 2019

Kerry Park wins last home and road games before Christmas break

VIDEO: Shawnigan Alliance Church actors present ‘The Journey of the Wise’

One of a trilogy of plays showing different aspects of the Nativity, the show drew a big crowd.

Police incident reported on Cowichan River Bridge

Traffic going across the Cowichan River Bridge at about 1 p.m. on… Continue reading

Boat sinks in Cow Bay leaving sheen of pollution

Coast Guard responds, but finds only one vessel that required assistance

VIDEO: Ex-NASA engineer pranks mail thieves with glitter bomb trap

Package thefts are common this time of year, but YouTuber Mark Rober used his engineering skills

Lightning top Canucks 5-2 in feisty battle

NHL’s No. 1 team too much for Vancouver

Bear cubs try to take Vancouver Island woman’s Christmas cookies

Incident happened in the early-morning hours today, Dec. 18, in Nanaimo

FortisBC says you can return to normal gas use following pipeline fire

Utility says increased pipeline capacity, warmer weather have allowed supply to reach normal levels

CSIS collected info on peaceful groups, but only in pursuit of threats: watchdog

Security Intelligence Review Committee says fears unjustified after reviewing evidence, testimony

Canada ranks 16th on annual gender gap list

This is the second year Canada has placed 16th in the World Economic Forum’s list

VIDEO: Tornado rips through city west of Seattle

Reports indicate five to seven homes damaged in Port Orchard, Wash.

Trial date postponed for man charged with killing Abbotsford police officer

Oscar Arfmann’s trial pushed back from January to May 2019

Privacy watchdog says legal cannabis buyers should use cash, not credit

Some countries could bar entry to individuals if they know they have purchased cannabis

Most Read