Four years later, the FRCC is reiterating that recommendation but upping the tally by another 20%, which means the culling of tens of thousands of seals. While acknowledging that scientific evidence of the seals’ impact on groundfish is lacking, the Council recommends a major cull, stating:
“It is still not clear whether seal predation is the most likely factor preventing recovery of other collapsed groundfish stocks. But it is apparent that well-controlled experimental reductions of seal numbers in specific areas, backed up by careful monitoring of groundfish population responses, are required to resolve untested scientific hypotheses about the effects of seals on groundfish population recovery, and to inform possible options for the control of seal predation.”
A Precautionary Approach to Reviving Fisheries
With images of bloodied and beaten fur seal pups already making Canada the butt of considerable international backlash, the report cautions that “mass removals” may lead to boycotting of Canadian seafood products. The FRCC proposes rebuilding the Canadian seal industry and developing markets for seal products, which they suggest will take several years.
In the meantime, they recommend a “precautionary approach” or PA. In this context, PA means not waiting to slaughter tens of thousands of seals until there is scientific consensus their sacrifice will bring back the groundfish.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada will likely agree with this approach. In May 2010, they published a report calling for the slaughter of 220,000 grey seals on Sable Island. The International Fund for Animal Welfare called it “absolutely appalling” and insisted “any plans to cull marine mammals should be subject to the United Nations Environment Programme’s Protocol for the Scientific Evaluation of Proposals to Cull Marine Mammals.”
A Different Precautionary Approach
The precautionary approach always seems to get twisted to support whatever it is we humans want to do. No one is consulting the seals.
A different interpretation of PA is particularly important in light of recent research that shows the entire food chain suffers when top predators are removed. Overfishing in the Black Sea led to eutrophication and an explosion of jellyfish. Shark fishing off the North Carolina coast wiped out “a century-old bay scallop fishery that supported the local community.” In the tropical Pacific, 10- to 100-fold increases in stingray catches coincided with 10-fold declines in their predators (tunas, billfishes and sharks).
None of these studies supports the killing tens of thousands of seals as a means of bringing back the groundfish. So let’s suggest a different precautionary approach, one that requires attention to the entire ecosystem before drawing the guns or raising the clubs.
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