Fish vs. seals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1995:

ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland–– “Decimated fish populations
like the northern cod will recover if fishing is cut down,”
Fisheries and Oceans Canada biologist Ransom Myers reported in
the September edition of Science. “What happened to [Atlantic
Canadian] fish stocks had nothing to do with the environment,
nothing to do with seals. It is simply overfishing.”
Myers was lead author of a review of the population
dynamics of 128 stocks of 34 commercially fished species over a
16-year period, commissioned by Fisheries Canada and the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service to see if overfishing might slow fish
breeding because survivors have a harder time finding mates, a
phenomenon called the despensation effect. Among the species
reviewed were salmon, cod, hake, haddock, herring, and
anchovies. The review discovered apparent despensation afflicting
only Islandic herring. Historically, despensation is believed
to have contributed to the extinction of the Lake Erie blue pike,
and many bird and mammal species.

Ignoring Myers’ findings, Fisheries and Oceans held the
second in a series of forums organized to promote sealing on
October 2 in St John’s, Newfoundland. “The forum demonstrated
that there are serious differences of opinion among sealers,”
reports Anne Doncaster of the International Wildlife Coalition,
“the most significant being between the faction that wants to reintroduce
a landsman’s hunt, and the faction that wants to reintroduce
an offshore hunt with large ships. Although the Canadian
Sealers Association said the sealing industy was poised to take
off,” Doncaster added, “the forum made clear that a significantly
increased commercial hunt faces serious problems. The sealing
industry cited lack of money and the animal rights movement as
major impediments.”
The DFO is to announce 1996 sealing policy, including
quotas, in early November. The announcement will shortly follow
the release of Fisheries Resource Management Conservation
Council recommendations concerning cod fishing. The
Fishermen, Food and Allied Workers Union, with 25,000
Atlantic Canadian members, has recommended reopening the
Gulf of St. Lawrence to cod fishing, claiming stocks have recovered
after a three-year closure.
According to Myers, cod stocks are now at about 1% of
their former size, and can grow at the rate of 20% per year if fishing
remains suspended. Fishing in recent years has depleted the
surviving stocks at the rate of 60% per year.
Some Maine coastal fishers and sea pen salmon farmers
are now also clamoring to kill seals, claiming they do $1.4 million
in damage per year to the $40-million-a-year Maine aquaculture
industry. The Maine harbor seal population has reportedly doubled
over the last 10 years, while occasional harp, hooded, and
ringed seals are also now coming into Maine waters from their
usual range far to the north. University of Maine professor of
wildlife conservation James Gilbert suggests that the seals at
attracted because depletion of cod, haddock, and flounder has
allowed other fish eaten by seals but not commercially pursued to
proliferate. At that, Gilbert says, the Maine seal population is
still below historic levels. Barely 6,000 seals were left off Maine
when a bounty on them was repealed in 1962.
Seal numbers are also sharply up around Long Island.
“Sharks are their principal predators,” explains World Wildlife
Fund vice president Michael Sutton. “A lot of us suspect it may
be the removal of seal predators,” through the recent boom in
shark-fishing, “that is responsible for the increasing seal population.”
Shark-fishing has escalated in synch with escalating prices
paid for shark fins and cartilege. The fins are in demand in Asia
for use in making a soup with purported medicinal properties,
while the cartilege is in vogue in the U.S. as a commonly touted
quack cancer cure.

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