Seals hurting cod recovery: DFO
Scientists with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans say there should be a cull of seals in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Mike Hammill, a research scientist and head of the federal department's marine mammal section, said his study concludes that unless three-quarters of the 100,000 grey seals are removed, cod stocks in the gulf could disappear within 30 years.
"Predation by grey seals on cod in the southern gulf is likely limiting the recovery of cod in this area," Hammill said.
"We did some preliminary runs in looking at some of the ecosystem effects of such a reduction, from the preliminary work it does not look like there would be serious side effects."
Grey seals weigh up to 300 kilograms and can eat between one and two tonnes of fish every year.
Hammill said he is proposing a experimental cull in the gulf region.
"It would reduce the number of seals in the gulf but it doesn't pose any sort of conservation threat to the herd," Hammill said.
Hammill said the seal population has exploded in the gulf but cod stocks have remained dangerously low despite a moratorium on fishing cod in the early 1990s.
He concludes that if the seal population isn't controlled cod in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence will disappear.
Further, Hammill said he believes the seals can be shot humanely from boats.
Fishermen support a cull
Members of the Maritime Fishermen's Union agree that a cull of grey seals is necessary, but question whether the DFO can come up with money to pay for such a program.
André Martin, the president of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, said he's glad that scientists now agree with what fishermen have been saying for years.
"It might come if we do get an announcement for an election, but right now I've been hearing that DFO's budget is going to be reduced quite a bit next year" Martin said.