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Seals, cod and the Atlantic fisheries

The Story

Newfoundland is facing another disaster in its fishery. The mighty cod is disappearing at an alarming rate, and some say it's because of the proliferating population of harp seals. But IFAW says that's just not true, charging that seals are the scapegoat for a government that has failed to manage cod stocks responsibly. The CBC's Ian Hanomansing examines the issue and interviews two experts with opposing viewpoints on the cod crisis.

Medium: Television
Program: Saturday Report
Broadcast Date: March 14, 1992
Guests: John Crosbie, Frank Hall, Bruno Marccochio, Anne McKay Roll, Loretta Swit
Reporter: Ian Hanomansing
Duration: 7:32

Did You know?

• IFAW's newspaper ads said only one per cent of the harp seal diet was northern cod. Newfoundland MP John Crosbie, then minister of fisheries and oceans, responded in the House of Commons: "As the Minister of Fisheries in Newfoundland suggested the other day, what do they do? [Seals have never] lined up waiting for Kentucky Fried Chicken. I have never seen them eat popsicles... We know they eat capelin and they eat cod."

• According to a 1996 article by Rick Smith of IFAW in the magazine New Maritimes, Crosbie later admitted that figures gathered by his own department showed that northern cod made up less then three per cent of the harp seal diet.

• In 1994 a study by two biologists -- one employed by the Science Branch of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans -- concluded that declining cod stocks could not be blamed on seals.

• The study was backed by 97 scientists in the Society for Marine Mammology. Their report read, in part: "All scientific efforts to find an effect of seal predation on Canadian groundfish stocks have failed to show any impact. Overfishing remains the only scientifically demonstrated problem.. If fishing closures continue, the evidence indicates that stocks will recover, and killing seals will not speed that process."

• The North Atlantic is a complex ecosystem in which seals eat not only cod, but also predators -- such as squid -- that eat cod. Seals also eat capelin, a smaller fish that cod eat.

• In July 1992 John Crosbie and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced a two-year moratorium on cod fishing to give stocks a chance to recover. Thousands of fisheries workers lost their jobs. The moratorium was partially withdrawn five years later, but the Newfoundland cod fishery was completely closed in April 2003.

• Allegations that seals ate too many cod were nothing new. In 1979 a satirical organization called Codpeace was founded in Newfoundland in response to Greenpeace's opposition to the seal hunt. Codpeace, whose motto was "In cod we trust," decried the "useless and uncontrolled slaughter" of cod by seals and claimed to be "taking up the cudgel on behalf of the voiceless ones, the noble cod."


Pelts, Pups and Protest: The Atlantic Seal Hunt more