ns-sable-seals

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is looking at ways to reduce the population of Atlantic grey seals by focusing on their main breeding ground, Sable Island. ((CBC))

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is looking at two ways to reduce the population of grey seals off the Atlantic coast — focusing on Sable Island where 80 per cent of the population breeds.

Both scenarios contained in a report by a Halifax consulting firm focus on the 40-kilometre crescent of sand off the coast of Nova Scotia. The department estimates there are 300,000 grey seals off the Atlantic coast, which they believe are hurting the recovery of ground fish stocks.

One scenario involves giving 15,000 female seals a contraceptive vaccine every year for five years. The second scenario is to shoot 100,000 seals in a year, and 120,000 more over the next four years.

The report says both plans would cost about the same — between $20 million and $35 million.

Killing the seals would also present a problem of how to dispose of their carcasses. The report suggests that could be solved by burning them in dumpster-sized incinerators.

Logistics 'are horrendous'

Gus van Helvoort, spokesman with the department, said carrying out the plans would be difficult.

"Well, the logistics are horrendous. I mean, Sable Island is a remote location, it's very sensitive. Recently, it was designated as a park. So there are all sorts of implications there in terms of how you do that kind of thing," he said Wednesday.

Last week, Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice said the process to make the ecologically sensitive spit of land in the North Atlantic a national park will begin next month with public consultations.

Each year only about 200 people are allowed to visit Sable Island, located about 300 kilometres southeast of Nova Scotia, in order to protect its fragile ecosystem.

But the proposed scenarios to control the grey seal population would require an influx of work crews and the fuel, machines and shelters to support them, van Helvoort said.

He stressed that this is just an exploratory report meant to inform future decisions. Van Helvoort said it's up to the federal fisheries minister to decide what course of action to take.

The report to the department was obtained through an access-to-information request by the Halifax newspaper, The Coast. To read more visit their website — www.thecoast.ca