Uncontrolled Seal Population Biggest Threat to Declining Gulf Cod Stock
June 13, 2019
Yesterday evening, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) announced the management plan for some groundfish species in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, including the total allowable catch (TAC) for 3Pn4RS cod. The TAC for cod has been set at 1000 tonnes for a two-year period, which is a 68% reduction from the previous season as a result of a declining biomass. FFAW-Unifor is calling on DFO to take action to control the overpopulation of seals as well as to better understand the significant impact seal predation is having on several important fish species around our province.
“For too long DFO has sat idle while evidence mounts that an overpopulation of seals is having a grave impact on important fish species in Newfoundland and Labrador and throughout Atlantic Canada. DFO does not consider important information on species predation that could significantly impact the health of these stocks, and this lack of understanding and action is hurting fish harvesters and coastal communities,” says FFAW-Unifor President Keith Sullivan.
The recent assessment for Atlantic cod states natural mortality is increasing at an alarming rate – something that is likely attributable, in part, to grey seals. There are approximately 8 million seals in Atlantic Canada, and each adult can consume approximately two tonnes of prey each year, up to half of which is cod. The amount harvested in the small cod fishery pales in comparison to the overwhelming volume potentially consumed as prey by seals.
“Science has admitted that reducing or even eliminating fishing entirely won’t change the fate of this stock unless something is done to address seals,” says harvester Loomis Way, who attended the Gulf Groundfish Advisory Meeting earlier this spring in Moncton.
“Recent information predicts the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence cod stock could be extinct in our lifetime as a result of grey seal predation, and we have reason to believe this same effect is happening to the cod stock further north in the gulf,” Sullivan warns. “DFO has dragged their heels when it comes to conducting proper science on seals around our province, and action to control the seal population long overdue. The government must take immediate steps to protect our fish species.”
DFO successfully implemented seal control programs until the 1980’s. Most recently, the parliamentary Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans recommended that the government ‘make every effort to control the seal population through a sustainable and responsible harvest to ensure the seal populations do not prevent the northern cod stock from replenishing in the future.’ Yet to date, and despite the repeated efforts of our Union and sealers’ associations, the government has done nothing to control seals in the Atlantic and very little to publicly defend this vital and sustainable economic activity.
“For years, our organization has been calling on the federal government to step up and implement a real ecosystem management approach, including addressing excessive predation. Many species of groundfish will be unable to adequately recover without proper management of the grey seal population. The government has prioritized an overabundant seal population over the protection of rebounding fish stocks,” says Sullivan.
“Coastal communities depend on healthy ecosystems for survival, and as groundfish recover it is of utmost importance that we do what we can to support a balanced ecosystem,” Sullivan concludes.