ST. JOHN’S, NL – The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW-Unifor) is calling on the federal government to take immediate action to control seal overpopulation in an effort to protect extremely vulnerable cod stocks on the south coast of Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The most recent assessment of southern Gulf cod (4T) was clear; extinction of that cod population is highly probable due to predation by grey seals. Scientists in the region took over a decade to acknowledge the impact seals were having in the southern Gulf region, and by that time the stock was already experiencing threatened extinction. A domino effect is now working its way up the coast with seal predation threatening cod stocks on the south coast of Newfoundland (3Ps) and in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence up to the Northern Peninsula (3Pn4R).
“For over two decades, I sat at the assessment and management tables with DFO where we repeatedly called on the government to take action against seal overpopulation. In that twenty years, absolutely no concrete action has been taken. We’ve now arrived at a point where three cod stocks in Atlantic Canada may go extinct as a direct result of natural mortality – specifically as a result of seal predation,” says David Decker, FFAW-Unifor Secretary Treasurer.
“When you look through the cod assessments for the southern Gulf stock over the past two decades compared to the south coast cod stock assessments, the parallels are striking with high natural mortality, particularly among older cod (ages 5+). It took multiple assessments and considerable research to definitively show the impacts of seal predation. If we are going to do similar work here, we will need to start now and learn from adjacent stocks,” explains Dr. Erin Carruthers, FFAW-Unifor Fisheries Scientist.
The stock assessment for 3Ps cod took place in St. John’s last week, the results of which will be released to the public in the coming days. However, the assessment did not consider impacts from seal predation. Fish harvesters in the region have repeatedly expressed their concerns over the vulnerability of the cod stock in 3Ps and have made clear their concerns regarding natural mortality of the stock and the increased abundance of seals.
Earlier this year, FFAW-Unifor began circulating a petition requesting the government take action to control seal overpopulation. Thousands of signatures have been recorded and FFAW-Unifor intends to submit the petition to the House of Commons in the coming weeks. Coastal communities depend on healthy ecosystems for survival, and as groundfish recover it is of utmost importance that the government take the necessary steps to support a balanced ecosystem and a sustainable seal harvest.
“Creating a Task Team is simply not enough. We cannot sit idly as these cod stocks are devastated directly as a result of seal overpopulation. The time is long overdue for our government to protect important fish species and prevent catastrophe. This lack of action is already being felt by fish harvesters and coastal communities. It’s crucial that we learn from what happened in the southern gulf and take action before the impacts cannot be reversed,” concludes Decker.
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