(Excerpted article...)

Sealers complain to committee

By BRIAN MEDEL Yarmouth Bureau

SHELBURNE — Nova Scotia’s core group of licensed seal hunters want to work but are seldom allowed, the Commons standing committee of fisheries and oceans was told here Thursday.

"There’s 117 of us," said Robert Courtney, a Cape Breton fisherman from the Cape North area.

"I ain’t supposed to be here today. I’m supposed to be in court in Sydney . . . for trying to harvest seals," Mr. Courtney told MPs who took their committee meeting on a road trip to hear about grey seals.

"We got the manpower to do it, (but) we ain’t allowed where the seals are," he said.

Grey seals congregate on a few select islands, most of which are protected sanctuaries, he said.

Mr. Courtney and some other sealers took 600 greys off an island recently, he said, noting that’s why he was supposed to be in court.

"The job of this committee will be to study this issue and make some recommendations," said chairman and South Shore MP Gerald Keddy.

Many fishing industry sources addressed the committee and said a grey seal cull is needed now.

"We have to get over our fear that some tourists will say, ‘We can’t go to Nova Scotia because they kill seals,’ " said Glenn Wadman, operations manager at D.B. Kenney Fisheries Ltd. on Brier Island.

"These same tourists will say we can’t eat Nova Scotia fish because they have worms," he said.

Twenty years ago, he said, most fish plant workers found only one or two wormy fish per shift. Now, he said, fish are heavily infested. The worms come from seal feces, research has shown.

The quality of finished product suffers because fillets are sometimes only fit to be packaged as fish bits after the worms are picked out of them, said Mr. Wadman.

DFO scientist Mike Hammill said researchers sample seal feces and analyze stomach contents and also look at fatty acids in seal tissue to determine what the grey seals are eating.

Researchers determined that seals don’t always eat a lot of cod. Quite often, he said, the seals eat species that aren’t as commercially important, such sand lance and redfish.

But the amount of cod making up a grey seal’s diet can jump to a high of 40 per cent or a low of 10 per cent, depending on the location and time of year, he said.

The grey seal population is now estimated to be 260,000-strong in Atlantic Canada, up from 20,000 in the 1970s.

Sable Island and the Scotian Shelf are where most of the seal congregate, said Mr. Hammill.

This year’s grey seal harvesting quota is 2,100 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and 8,300 on the Scotian Shelf, although only 1,800 have been taken so far, he said.

"This winter we intend to carry out another survey," said Mr. Hammill.

Debbie MacKenzie of the Grey Seal Conservation Society was the only presenter who wanted to save the seals.

Scientists have realized that fishing itself has altered the ocean ecosystem and removal of large predatory animals like grey seals will alter it more, she argued.

That’s why Canada should stop commercial seal hunting, she said.


See also:

Standing Committiee on Fisheries and Oceans - Evidence, November 09, 2006

Brief submitted to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans

HANSARD - Grey Seal Conservation Society(GSCS) and the committee on Natural Resources...

Baltic grey seal photo taken this summer at the Hel Field Station of Gdnask University.
Photo courtesy Dr.Wlodzimierz (Wlodek) Tych, Department of Environmental Sciences, Lancaster University.