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Ottawa strategy to study seals to death doesn't work; SEA-NL tells Commons committee time for action

SEA-NL Executive Director Ryan Cleary testified Thursday, March 30th, in Ottawa before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, which is studying the ecosystem impacts and management of seal populations.

Mr. Chair,

Thank you to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for the invitation to testify as part of this latest pinniped study.

I say latest study because — as this committee has already heard — there have been dozens of federal government studies and reports since the early 1990s on the East Coast seal problem.

To this point, Ottawa’s seal strategy has been to study the animals to death.

I can report conclusively to this committee, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that the strategy is NOT working.

It was only last year that the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans — in the biggest single advancement for the pro sealing cause in decades — acknowledged, on behalf of the Government of Canada, for all the nations of the world to hear, that seals eat fish.

What sweet central Canadian words those were to the ears of the small-boat fishermen and women of Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Chair.

There’s an old joke back home that seals don’t eat Kentucky Fried, but that joke stopped being funny years ago when the inshore fishery began fading before our eyes, on every coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

As the seal population of Atlantic Canada has ballooned to 10-million plus animals, the number of small-boat enterprises in my province alone (the sector that SEA-NL represents) has dropped like a rock from more than 20,000 in 1992 to just over 3,200 today, and dropping every single year.

That is no coincidence: seal population up, fishermen population down.

I attended a northern cod advisory this week in St. John’s, and DFO mathematicians — they can’t be called scientists any more because there has NOT been solid science in years — DFO’s mathematicians said with absolute confidence that seals do not impact northern cod.

I remind the committee that this is year 31 of what was supposed to be a two-year northern cod moratorium.

The moratorium was supposed to end in 1994, 29 years ago.

Seals eat millions of tonnes of fish a year, including the very capelin that northern cod feed on.

Yet DFO managers and mathematicians — who, to be frank, have precious little credibility back home — can say with SUPREME confidence, the most confidence I’ve ever heard DFO speak about any species — that seals are NOT having an impact on cod.

Are not having an impact on ANY species — not snow crab, not northern shrimp, not capelin.

DFO’s poster boy species for successful fisheries management in Eastern Canada IS the seal, at the expense of the wild commercial fisheries — groundfish, pelagics, shellfish.

In 1991, 32 years ago, 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 not done.

DFO still has no handle on cod-capelin-seal interactions.

I can show you all kinds of videos of seal stomachs liberally bursting with capelin, and herring, and snow crab (cod stomachs and livers — they’re not so easy to point out).

The impact of harp seals is not factored into fisheries management assessments.

That’s inexcusable. DFO isn’t doing its job.

And DFO’s chief cod mathematician can brazenly tell the world that seals aren’t having an impact.

Zero credibility.

I can tell you for a fact that 10-million pus seals are having a crushing impact on 520,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

I served for four and a half years here in Ottawa as an MP and the unwritten rule was there are two subjects MPs don’t talk about — their pension plan, and seals.

Some parties may take public stands in support of the seal hunt, but in private their stand is the opposite. That’s the reality.

The membership of SEA-NL passed a motion at our February AGM, Mr. Chair, to demand that DFO develop a seal action plan to deal with seals on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, as well as Arctic waters, within six months.

A final point, an important point, about groups like Oceana Canada that have the Liberal government's ear on fisheries management.

It was only last year that Oceana Canada called for the shut down of the capelin fishery … at the same time that DFO’s own mathematicians said the impact of that 15,000-tonne capelin fishery does NOT register on the capelin stock.

Certainly not compared to the millions of tonnes consumed by seals.

It’s a job not to be suspicious of groups like Oceana that “urgently" recommends the counting of every last fish caught in Canadian waters when they don’t have a policy on seals.

Groups like Oceana Canada don’t say a public word about seals other than baby harps are "adorable," harbour seals are "the cutest," and grey seals like to play peek-a-boo.

What does that tell the members of this committee about their motives?

Thank you.

Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL

Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization that serves as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. Visit to join.

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