Thursday, February 9, 2012

Smarting Over Cod Shortages, Fishermen Blame Seals

The codfish catch is declining, and nets are coming up empty. What to do? For some, the answer is to kill the marine mammals that compete with humans for fish.

In Canada, where a resurgent population of Atlantic gray seals is being held responsible by fishermen for the failure of cod stocks to bounce back, the fisheries department’s Science Advisory Secretariat last year proposed an experimental cull of 73,000 of the 350,000 gray seals estimated to live on the country’s east coast.

Once valued for their oil, gray seals were nearly wiped out by hunting pressures, and the population has been rebuilding only slowly. There is very little commercial hunting of gray seals because there is almost no market for them, in contrast to baby harp seals, which have been prized for their fur (although that market is drying up).

But the seal’s gradual comeback has coincided with the collapse of what was once one of the world’s great fisheries, the Canadian codfish stock, which has been moribund since 1992. This environmental and commercial calamity cost thousands of people their jobs and decimated fishing communities. Some fishermen — and, conservationists argue, politicians pandering to them — see a zero-sum equation at work: more seals, fewer fish. Read More