(Corner Brook) The federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans says more research is needed on the impact of the seal population on East Coast fish stocks.
Part of that research will include a summit on the nation’s seal population in Saint John, Newfoundland and Labrador, this fall, Joyce Murray said, responding to the recently released report by the Seals Science Task Force. Atlantic Seals, which was commissioned by the Department of Fisheries in 2020.
The report says high numbers of gray seals and harp seals “are at or approaching historic levels” and are having “a serious impact on the ocean ecosystem of Atlantic Canada.”
“The extent of these impacts cannot be determined with the limited information held by DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) Science. »
The report states that the gray seal population in Atlantic Canada has grown from around 15,000 in the 1960s to 424,300 animals in 2016, representing the largest concentration of gray seals in the world. The region’s harp seal population has grown from around two million animals in the 1970s to around 7.6 million in 2019, and it is the largest harp seal population in the Atlantic. Northwest since the data is recorded.
According to the report, groundfish stocks in Atlantic Canada “are at near or near historic lows and recovering very little due to very high levels of unexplained natural mortality that has been attributed to seals in some regions, but not in others”.
Commercial finfish fishing “has never been so limited, due to low stock productivity resulting, in part, from high rates of unexplained natural mortality,” it adds.
Glenn Blackwood, co-chair of the report, said the mortality rate for many fish stocks is high, adding that the region’s fishing industry and the Department of Fisheries need to know what role seals play in the ocean ecosystem. .
“Further work needs to be done on the diet of harp seals and gray seals,” Blackwood said at a press conference. “And also about distribution patterns, and we need to understand the relationship between seals and fish stocks. »
“We believe the industry is ready to step in and work with DFO scientists to design, collect the samples and solve this problem,” he said.
Speaking outside a seafood processing plant, Ms Murray drew applause when she said she knows “seals eat fish”.
“That’s why we need to better understand the impact they have on our fish stocks,” she said. The task team has delivered a report that starts the conversation on how we can move forward to address the concerns we have heard from anglers about this simple fact. »
The minister said that, as a first step, her department will be hosting a seal summit this fall. “It will be about broadening engagement on Atlantic seals and bringing stakeholders together to discuss science, market development and management approaches,” she said.
Ms. Murray said her department is committed to maintaining existing markets for Canadian seal products and supporting the development of potential new markets.