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Snow crab fishery in full swing

Owner-operators involved in Canada's largest snow crab fishery off Newfoundland and Labrador may be a few weeks away from shooting pots, but if past years are an indication seals are already load and go.

DFO NL has said seals don't have an impact on snow crab stocks, but this video taken on March 5th, 2021 of the stomach contents of a seal harvested off St. Anthony said otherwise.

DFO does not factor seal feeding patterns/consumption rates into population assessments for species such as snow crab, northern shrimp, and cod.

The department has also said that 7.6 million harp seals are not having any impact on snow crab stocks, but so many pictures of stomach contents over the years say otherwise.

The 1990 Independent Review of the State of the Northern Cod Stock by the late Dr. Leslie Harris questioned the impact of seals on the marine ecosystem — making two specific recommendations.

That research be undertaken or commissioned to establish seal feeding patterns and consumption rates throughout the year.

That every reasonable effort be made to understand the cod-capelin-seal interactions and to incorporate appropriate data into cod population assessments.”

While DFO has carried out seal research, it’s been a bare minimum, and the impact of seals still isn’t factored into scientific stock assessments for cod, northern shrimp, caplin, or snow crab.

Conservative MP Clifford Small has a private member's bill before the House of Commons calling on DFO to consider seals predation when assessing fish stocks.

The contents of a seal stomach. DFO science said last week snow crab stocks are healthy in most areas — except off Labrador and points north. DFO also said that crab stock biomass improvements in recent years may be peaking.

According to the Sealers Memorial in Elliston (which obviously isn’t a scientific authority), harp seals consume 12 million tonnes of fish, or 10% of the world’s wild harvest.

Those numbers hit home when you consider NL’s commercial fisheries landed 176,234 tonnes in 2020 (1.5% of what seals eat).

In recent years the presence of harp seals has been recorded miles upstream in the province's rivers, and last year a video went viral of 5 miles of seals off Newfoundland's east coast, images that fired up debate about their impact on capelin, cod and snow crab.

Meantime, the three cod stocks adjacent to Newfoundland and Labrador are designated by DFO science as in the critical zone.

Indeed, this year also marks the 30th anniversary of the northern cod moratorium, with the commercial fishery still under an official moratorium.

The inshore fleet has been waiting decades for DFO to get its act in gear with respect to seal science. Ottawa's foot-dragging amounts to criminal negligence.

Maybe someday soon there will be a court case.

Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL

To read more about SEA-NL, and for owner-operators to join please visit our website or e-mail Sign SEA-NL's petition to the House of Commons on non-core commercial fishing licences here.

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