Nfld. & Labrador

Does N.L. need a seal cull? It depends on which political party you ask

Politicians have different views on how best to deal with seals and the impact they have on recovering stocks.
The seal hunt has long been debated, perhaps not more famously than when then premier Danny Williams and Paul McCartney appeared on Larry King Live in 2006. (NOAA Fisheries)

Crab found inside the stomachs of seals is reigniting a debate about whether a seal cull is needed. 

While politicians across the spectrum say something must be done to decrease animal predation of fish stocks, there is no consensus on which approach is best. 

CBC News was invited to see — at times in graphic detail —crab that had been eaten by seals off Fleur de Lys. Plant owner Brad Rideout, after slicing open a bearded seal's stomach and describing the different parts of its content, called the unharvested crab "money gone to waste."

Rideout was more than happy to have media on the wharf, to try to draw attention to what he says is a major issue — that seals play a huge part in slowing the growth of weak crab stocks.

Fisheries Minister Elvis Loveless says more research is needed before even broaching the topic of a seal cull. (Ariana Kelland/CBC)

So what should be done about it? That depends on which political party you ask. 

Seal cull 'should be talked about': Crosbie

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie said his first choice would be a bigger seal hunt. 

"It used to be that people ate seals. And now you could say seals are eating people — at least, they're eating people's livelihoods," he said.

He admits a seal cull would be a dramatic step, one that comes with the all-but-guaranteed risk of drawing the ire of many outspoken anti-seal hunt people. Most famously, Paul McCartney and then premier Danny Williams squared off on CNN's Larry King Live in 2006 about the seal hunt. 

"I don't answer to CNN. I answer to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador," said Crosbie.

"And if the seal cull has to be talked about and if it's what is needed to get federal attention on the problem of seals and seal consumption of valuable species, then that's why we've got to talk about."

'Sound plan' needed, says fisheries minister

Fisheries Minister Elvis Loveless agrees there needs to be a better plan to decrease predators of fish stocks. However, he chided Crosbie for political bluster. 

"I'm not going to to sit here … to make a loud political statement, because I want to get votes — unlike what Ches Crosbie and PC Party is doing," he said, accusing the Tories of trying to score points in the still-unresolved election. 

"I'm not going to do that. That's disrespectful and irresponsible, I believe, to the voter and to the people in this industry. We need a sound plan."

What do seals eat? Debate revived by discovery of crab in seal stomachs

CBC News Newfoundland

5 months ago
2:43
Garrett Barry reports from Fleur de Lys, where a local company is convinced seals are hurting the crab fishery 2:43

The first step of that plan? More research, he says. 

"We need to do more with science again.… And when we have better science, we make better decisions on this resource and or any resource within the fishing industry," said Loveless. 

Loveless said all the stakeholders in the fishing industry — including the federal government — need to come to the table for any plan to have a chance of success.

NDP MHA Jim Dinn says a cull could be "an incredible waste of of a creature."

He said that kind of talk would only further hurt the reputation of the sealing industry.

Natasha Rideout, left, and Brad Rideout, right, examine the contents of a bearded seal's stomach on a wharf in Fleur de Lys. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"I'd rather think in terms of a harvesting of an animal of a population as long as they can be sustained. And how do you turn that into bringing jobs for the local for the local economy? It's about developing markets," he said. 

Dinn said any expansion of the seal hunt should focus on keeping jobs inside Newfoundland and Labrador, and added that the provincial government can play an important role in stimulating an industry.

"Government has a role," he said. "If they can do it for aquaculture, they can certainly do it for for local harvesters, local communities and local industry."

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