UPEI veterinarian behind rejected seal cull proposal plans to move forward

Pierre-Yves Daoust, a wildlife pathologist at UPEI's Atlantic Veterinary College, is upset by the Quebec government's rejection to kill 1,200 grey seals, but still wants to conduct the project elsewhere in the Magdalen Islands.

The proposal had goals of building a seal industry, protecting Brion Island's ecosystem

UPEI's Pierre-Yves Daoust proposed the seal cull, and says he will 'try again.' (Charles Caraguel)

The wildlife pathologist who proposed the slaughtering of 1,200 grey seals on Brion Island is upset the Quebec government rejected it last month, but said he hopes to conduct the study elsewhere.

Pierre-Yves Daoust, who works at the University of Prince Edward Island's Atlantic Veterinary College, said he thinks it wasn't the proposal itself that was rejected, but the fact that the study was to take place on one of the Magdalen Islands' nature reserves.

Pierre-Yves Daoust is a wildlife pathologist and veterinarian at UPEI's Atlantic Veterinary College. (UPEI)

"I think it was clear through some of our discussions with the minister of environment in Quebec that they understand the project [and], in principle, they support it," he said.

"But this project was intended to be carried out on a small island which was designated many years ago as a nature reserve and that was strictly the problem with authorizing this combination of scientific and commercial venture on a nature reserve."

Daoust also said the government was not on board with the commercialisation aspect of the project.

"We were lead to believe if they want a scientific component in this project … even a nature reserve can be open to scientific studies," he said.

"What happened in this situation is that the commercial component of this venture was a substantial part of the project and that's where the objection on the part of the Quebec ministry of environment was."

Sustainable resources

Daoust said there is a healthy population of grey seals overall in the northwestern Atlantic. He did not have exact numbers, but estimated there are approximately 400,000. Around 10,000 of those are situated in the Magdalen Islands.

The ultimate goal for the project was to team up with fisherman and sealers in the Magdalen Islands to "take advantage of this healthy population" in order for the people of the area to build an industry in sealing.

Daoust said it is a sustainable resource and he is not promoting the reduction of the herd of grey seals.

Daoust said there is a healthy population of grey seals overall in the northwestern Atlantic. (Sarah Medill/University of Saskatchewan)

"From my perspective, all that I'm saying is this herd is healthy in terms of numbers and, therefore, yes, it's possible to harvest in a sustainable manner if it is done properly from the perspective of animals and the perspective of harvesting the carcasses in a clean manner so that the product can be consumed by humans."

Daoust said there is evidence the population of these animals is interfering with the recovery of some ground fisheries in the area. He also said they impact Brion Island's ecosystem specifically because they trample the vegetation when they come up from the shores.

Forming a new proposal

Because of the large population in the Brion Island area, Daoust said it would've been ideal to conduct the study there.

"A large part of the project was to investigate to what extent the people on the Magdalen Islands can build up an industry on the exploitation, the harvesting of grey seals," Daoust said.

"In order to do that, you have to have access to a reasonably large number of those animals to see if the whole logistics of the venture can function."

Daoust, who's main role is to make sure the meat that would come out of this project is safe for human consumption, said the plan now is form another proposal. This time, he is looking to conduct the same study on a smaller scale for now in an area that is open to this kind of research.

"The next step would be to do it on a smaller sale and try to collect as many animals as possible in different areas," he said.

"And [we will] try again for next year so that eventually the people in the Magdalen Islands can build up an industry based on the harvesting of grey seals."

With files from Krystalle Ramlakhan