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

Alberta man dies in snowmobile collision near Revelstoke

The incident occurred on Boulder Mountain Friday morning

Open letter to Premier John Horgan

LETTER: Group called First Things First Okanagan promotes action on climate change

Revelstoke Nordic Ski Club hope to host major competitions

They are enlarging their parking lot, stadium area, and building short technical race trails

No conservation officer planned for Revelstoke in near future

MLA Clovechok said he has gotten the environment minister to agree to meet with local residents

Government has no solution for dangerous Three Valley Gap stretch

Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok met with the Ministry to talk about the dangers around Highway 1

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Low fog creates stunning views near Sicamous

Motorists on the highway between Salmon Arm and Sicamous were treated to spectacular scenery.

Dix says B.C. remains focused on fighting youth overdoses in wake of teen’s death

Elliot Eurchuk’s parents say he died at his Oak Bay home after taking street drugs

Okanagan-Similkameen freshet looms large: district

Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen says property owners have window to prepare for flooding

‘When everybody leaves: Counselling key to help Humboldt move on after bus crash

Dealing with life after a tragedy can be the worst part following a loss

Half-naked shooter guns down four, runs away in Nashville Waffle House shooting

Nashville police say they are looking for Travis Reinking in connection with the shooting

Child’s body found in river downstream from where boy went missing during flood

Three-year-old Kaden Young was swept out of his mother’s arms in February

B.C. VIEWS: Eliminating efficiency for farm workers

Don’t worry, NDP says, the B.C. economy’s booming

Kamloops RCMP respond to report of dead body floating in Thompson River

Body has not been located, searches to continue as river conditions improve

Most Read