British Columbia

First Nations-led group calls for commercial cull of seals, sea lions to save B.C.'s salmon

A First Nations-led group in British Columbia is pushing for permission to cull seals and sea lions, pitching it as one way to help save the West Coast’s struggling salmon.

'We're in serious trouble and nobody seems to want to deal with the problem'

Roy Jones Jr. is president of the group pushing for the cull and a member of the Haida Nation. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

A First Nations-led group in British Columbia is pushing for permission to cull seals and sea lions, pitching it as one way to help save the West Coast's struggling salmon. 

Pacific Balance Marine Management held a conference on Wednesday, calling on Fisheries and Oceans Canada to license First Nations to commercially harvest and sell the marine mammals.

"As First Nations, we can hunt seals and sea lions for food and ceremonial purposes on the West Coast," said Chief Roy Jones Jr., president of the group and a member of the Haida Nation. 

"In Northern and Eastern Canada, there is a commercial seal hunt going on."

The group wants to be able to do the same in B.C. and presented letters from several local businesses, who say they would be interested in purchasing seal and sea lion products. 

The hunting of seals and sea lions commercially — which are collectively known as pinnipeds — has been banned on the West Coast for more than 40 years. (Nic Amaya/CBC)

The group has submitted a proposal to commercially hunt pinnipeds — the scientific name for flipper-footed marine animals — to the DFO who says they are looking into it. 

"DFO is conducting a thorough review of their proposal against the requirements and has exchanged several rounds of feedback," a media spokesperson said in a written statement to CBC. 

"DFO Science conducts research on the populations dynamics and diets of pinnipeds which support a more detailed understanding of their role in the ecosystem."

Along with research from both the U.S. and Canada, the DFO has been looking at the potential impacts of pinnipeds on salmon particularly in the Salish Sea.

'We're in serious trouble'

The Pacific Balance Marine Management group emphasizes that the commercial seal and sea lion cull isn't about making money — it's about protecting the dwindling salmon stock.

"We're in serious trouble and nobody seems to want to deal with the problem," Jones said. 

Jones has had a history of supporting provocative political causes. His support for the controversial  — and now defunct  — Enbridge pipeline led to his clan moving to strip him of his title as hereditary chief.  

"A lot of my clan members still recognize me as chief," he said, noting he is a member of the National Coalition of Chiefs. 

"I'll be chief till I die."

Are seals a scapegoat?

According to Scott Wallace, a senior research scientist at the David Suzuki Foundation, seals and sea lions have become a scapegoat when it comes to salmon conservation.  

"There's about 140 different species in the ocean that eat salmon, and we've chosen to highlight seals and sea lions," he said. 

"There's a long history of villainizing and scapegoating seals and sea lions, but I think it's quite short-sighted to think that we can manipulate an ecosystem to enhance a single species."

The DFO says it is reviewing the proposal and any decision will be based on sustaining a healthy ecosystem.

Clarifications

  • The story has been updated to include more information about Roy Jones Jr.'s title.
    Aug 21, 2019 7:45 PM PT

With files from B.C. Today and Jon Hernandez

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