New money for Quebec seal hunt study draws praise, protest

After rejecting a scientific study that involved culling 1,200 grey seals from the Brion Island nature reserve in the Magdalen Islands, the province is helping to finance similar research nearby.

UPEI researcher to study commercial potential of grey seals in Magdalen Islands

A young grey seal appears to be napping on the ice. (Charles Caraguel)

After rejecting a scientific study that involved culling 1,200 grey seals from the Brion Island nature reserve in the Magdalen Islands, the province is helping to finance similar research nearby.

The $72,904 in funding will allow a University of Prince Edward Island researcher to study an unspecified number of grey seals harvested on Corps Mort, or Dead Man's Island, a few kilometres west of the Magdalen Islands archipelago.

Plan B gets green light

Pierre-Yves Daoust is pleased the Quebec government decided to support an alternative proposal.

"We always felt that the Ministry of Agriculture was working hard to provide us with some financial support to carry out our work, and that's what has happened," said Daoust, a wildlife veterinarian and pathologist at the Atlantic Veterinary College at UPEI.

Daoust plans to harvest the seals to collect a variety of samples from their blubber and organs in order to analyze the animals for contaminants, heavy metals and potential pathogens.

People have more commonly hunted harp seals, but some Magdalen Islands fishermen have been advocating a grey seal hunt, arguing that their exploding numbers are depleting fish stocks.

Daoust's analysis will serve to determine if Magdalen Islanders can turn grey seals into quality commercial products.

"This is extremely important for them from an economic point of view," he said.

The grey seal population on Brion Island, pictured here in 2015, has ballooned from 400 in 1999 to an estimated 10,000 today. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

The original proposal to kill more than a thousand seals on Brion Island, a nature reserve just north of the Magadelen Islands archipelago, was rejected by the province in late December because of its commercial nature.

An estimated 10,000 seals live on Brion Island. Daoust said Dead Man's Island has far fewer seals, possibly no more than several hundred.

Cull opponents 'deeply disappointed'

Some opponents of the seal hunt are appalled by the decision.

"We are deeply disappointed to see this so-called study funded,"said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International – Canada, calling the study a make-work project for the commercial sealing industry.

She called the harvesting of grey seals the most cruel commercial sealing she has seen, and she said she doesn't believe an effort to create a market for them will be successful.

"Like commercial whaling, this industry is gone. It's time that our government stop using tax dollars from an unwilling public to keep this industry on artificial life support."

"There is no future in commercial sealing of grey seals or any other species of seals in Canada," she said.

A UPEI researcher plans to study whether grey seals can be used to make quality commercial products. This grey seal is in Canso, N.S. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

with files from Julia Page and Saroja Coelho