top of page

NL fishery sacrificed for seals

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

According to a Fisheries and Oceans report from 1994, when the harp seal population was at five million animals, the department figured the seals consumed about one million tonnes of caplin a year, and 142,000 tonnes of cod. Read it here.

This picture was taken in June/July 2019 in King's Point, Green Bay.

Independent licensed owner-operators are encouraged to join SEA-NL here. These blog posts will be public for a limited time, before becoming exclusive to the membership.

In terms of value, one million tonnes of caplin (2.2 billion pounds) at 42¢/lb (2020 price, Grade A) equals $925 million.

As for cod, 142,000 tonnes (313 million/lbs) at 80¢/lb (2021 fall price, Grade A) equals $250 million.

That works out to a grand total of $1.17 billion worth of cod and caplin.

Now consider that as of DFO’s last count in 2019, the harp seal population stood at 7.6 million — 52% (2.6 million) more animals than in 1994.

How DFO can say with a straight face that harp seals aren’t having an impact?


An elderly gentleman contacted me this morning, after hearing me speak on VOCM OpenLine in reaction to two DFO scientists who said that seals aren't having a measurable impact on northern cod, or any commercial stock for that matter.

The man said the NL fishery has been “sacrificed for seals."

A great point.


One weakness of DFO's science is its inability to accurately estimate the total number of caplin in the water — which scientists call an “absolute abundance estimate” — because it doesn't do a survey of the full area using sonar.

Other countries such as Iceland do acoustic surveys allowing them to estimate the full numbers.

DFO does not factor harp seal predation into its scientific assessments.

That’s despite the fact that 30 years ago, in 1991, the Leslie Harris report on the state of the northern cod stock recommended “every reasonable effort be made to understand the cod-capelin-seal interactions, and to incorporate appropriate data into cod population assessments.”

That was never done.

Three seals were taken in Hall’s Bay near Baie Verte in northeastern Newfoundland on Feb. 4th, 2021. Two of the stomachs were full of herring, while the other contained northern cod.


Friday marks the 29 anniversary of the ’92 northern cod moratorium.

DFO finally released a rebuilding plan five months ago. All three cod stocks adjacent to Newfoundland and Labrador (2J,3KL or northern cod), the cod stock off southern Newfoundland (fishing zone 3Ps), and the cod stock in the Gulf (fishing zone 4R) are all in the critical zone.

The south coast cod fishery was shut down in 1993, reopened in 1997, peaked in terms of annual total allowable catch at 30,000 tonnes, and then earlier this year there was talk of a possible moratorium.

That didn’t happen, and the 2021 quota was cut in half to 1,346 tonnes, with offshore draggers still allowed to fish the resource.

In June, while steaming about 60 miles from Baccalieu Island, in Trinity Bay, fisherman Jason Branton came across what a herd of seals that he estimated was five miles wide.


“Anybody who knows the voracity of a seal can imagine what a million or two of them will do to our fish supply. Levi G. Chage, the world’s greatest sealing authority, estimates that the seals dispose of three million codfish a day, to say nothing of other kinds of fish.”

— George Allan England, from his 1924 book, The Greatest Hunt in the world.

Ryan Cleary,


403 views0 comments


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page