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Scientists: Multimillion dollar seal-killing plan won’t bring back Atlantic cod

Published: November 15, 2012
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By , The Guardian

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Open letter from marine scientists at Dalhousie University challenges claim that cull is needed to help fish stocks

Canada‘s multimillion dollar proposal to cull grey seals will not bring back the ravaged stocks of Atlantic cod it is intended to help, scientists have said.

In October, the Canadian Senate approved a controversial plan to kill 70,000 grey seals in the Gulf of St Lawrence under a bounty system next year, ostensibly to revive the cod stocks that the seals were eating.

But a group of marine scientists at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, have said in a recent open letter: “There is no credible scientific evidence to suggest a cull of grey seals in Atlantic Canada would help depleted fish stocks recover.

“Seals are being used as a scapegoat, just like whales were once blamed for fishery declines,” said Hal Whitehead, marine biologist at Dalhousie, told the Guardian. He called the proposed cull an abuse of the science. “I don’t like the idea of slaughtering all these animals for no reason.”

Canada’s Atlantic cod stocks, once estimated at 1.5-2.5 billion fish of reproductive age, collapsed in the early 1990s from overfishing. Despite a nearly total ban on cod fishing for the past 20 years, stocks have not recovered.

That’s not the case for grey seals. Similarly depleted by hunting, numbers stood at just a few thousand in the 1970s. Following the collapse of markets for seal fur, mainly due to bans by European countries, their numbers increased dramatically. Grey seals are now estimated at 300,000 to 400,000.

Canada’s standing Senate committee on fisheries and oceans reportdeclared last month that since there are more seals, and seals eat fish, they are “an important cause” in the lack of recovery of Atlantic


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