Seals were not the primary cause of the collapse of cod and other groundfish stocks — overfishing and improper management are the main culprits. Seals are, however, hindering the fish stock’s recovery in key areas. The great boom in seal populations at a time when fish stocks are vulnerable, even threatened, (Newfoundland and Labrador’s Atlantic cod is listed as “endangered” by COSEWIC) puts more pressure on a weak resource.
It is accepted that grey seals, in particular, are a limiting factor in the recovery of cod stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on George’s Bank. An adult seal eats up to 1.5 tonnes of fish a year—cod, white hake, winter skate, caplin, herring, haddock, shellfish, and other species. Total Allowable Catch numbers are set to maintain a sustainable level of grey seals while considering the recovery of the fish stocks. Efforts to find additional markets for seal and seal products continue, to ensure the best and full use of harvested animals.
In addition to a well-managed seal harvest, the government of Canada has stepped up other efforts to help fish stocks recover, by bringing in strict gear modifications to limit cod bycatch and the catching of young cod, restricting the time and location of the fisheries that do continue, setting strict quotas, and increasing at-sea fisheries observers and dockside monitoring.
A sustainable harvest of seals not only protects the seals themselves, but also helps to reinstate many of its chief food stocks that are of cultural and economic importance to the adjacent communities.
Through a carefully managed seal harvest, this important ecosystem balance can be achieved, and maintained.
“Over the past 60 years the historical ecosystem balance has been disturbed by fishing power, high seas fishing, and failed resource management regimes. We need to move now towards a balanced, informed and carefully managed approach to marine resource utilization.”
—Hon. Darin King, MHA, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture of Newfoundland and Labrador (2012)