WHEN WE TALK COD, WE HAVE TO TALK SEALS

Cen­tral New­found­land fish­er­man call­ing for seal pop­u­la­tion con­trol mea­sures

The Beacon (Gander) - - Front page - BY ADAM RAN­DELL Adam.ran­dell@gan­der­bea­con.ca

After years of promis­ing growth, north­ern cod stocks are show­ing signs of de­cline.

De­part­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans Canada sci­ence has at­trib­uted the bulk of the stock’s de­cline to nat­u­ral mor­tal­ity causes, in­clud­ing pre­da­tion.

As a re­sult, the Fish Food and Al­lied Work­ers (FFAW) union is call­ing on DFO to fo­cus on pre­da­tion within the ecosys­tem, par­tic­u­larly grey and harp seals.

The fish­er­men’s union claims seals are play­ing a sig­nif­i­cant role in keep­ing cod stocks down.

In a press re­lease, the FFAW states an adult seal can con­sume up to two tonnes of prey per year, with a sub­stan­tial por­tion of its diet be­ing cod. Fur­ther­more, the union says seals also feast on key food sources of the north­ern cod, such as capelin.

Her­ring Neck fish­er­man El­dred Wood­ford agreed that there needs to be more fo­cus on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween seals and cod. He him­self has come across seals with bel­lies full of fe­male crab, capelin and her­ring.

Wood­ford said seals also feed heav­ily on cod as well.

“What they do with cod fish is what we call belly bites,” he said. “They go into a school of cod fish, bite a chunk out of their bel­lies to get their liver, and a few other im­por­tant parts, and leave the rest of it to die.”

In 2016, DFO es­ti­mated the Atlantic harp seal pop­u­la­tion to be a healthy and abun­dant 7.4 mil­lion an­i­mals, nearly six times what it was in the 1970s.

A thriv­ing seal har­vest in the past was used to keep the pop­u­la­tion in con­trol, but ac­cord­ing to Wood­ford mar­ket de­clines have brought about smaller de­mands for the prod­uct, al­low­ing the apex preda­tor pop­u­la­tion to grow.

“We are try­ing to re­build north­ern cod stocks,” Wood­ford said. “We have got to de­cide whether we are go­ing to use fish resources to feed the world, or if we’re go­ing to leave preda­tors un­touched for pre­da­tion to wipe those resources out.”

With the world’s hu­man pop­u­la­tion on the rise – 7.6 bil­lion peo­ple – he says it shouldn’t be the lat­ter.

“I don’t agree with wip­ing out a seal pop­u­la­tion, we’ve al­ways sup­ported a healthy pop­u­la­tion,” he said, “but it’s gone so far be­yond that now, it’s not al­low­ing some species of fish to re­bound prop­erly.”

Wood­ford, who is also pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Seal­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, says to­day’s mar­ket avail­abil­ity of be­tween 60,000 and 70,000 an­i­mals isn’t enough to curb the seal pop­u­la­tion’s growth.

“It will play a lit­tle part in try­ing to al­le­vi­ate the preda­tor-prey re­la­tion­ship, but it’s def­i­nitely not do­ing any­thing to it be­cause we are only talk­ing small num­bers,” he said. “We’re Only har­vest­ing some 15 per cent of al­lo­cated quo­tas.

The only so­lu­tion, he says, is stronger mar­kets that must be es­tab­lished on the fed­eral level.

The lob­by­ing ef­forts of an­i­mal rights ac­tivist groups have seen other coun­tries place bans on seal prod­ucts.

“The prob­lem lies with Ot­tawa, not do­ing its duty to pro­tect our mar­kets and gain ac­cess to new mar­kets,” Wood­ford said.

FILE PHOTO

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