Hunters Demand Quota to Cull Thousands of Seals
by Jenny Peng
VANCOUVER -- The Chief of Haida Gwaii First Nations is calling for a hunting quota on at least 3,000 seals and sea lions in his community and along the west coast of B.C. to help repopulate the critically low salmon stocks.
The newly-established Pacific Balance Pinnipeds Society led by president and Chief Roy Jones wants Fisheries and Oceans Canada to establish an "annual harvest quota" on seals and seal lions.
These flipper-footed mammals (pinnipeds) are known to prey on juvenile chinook and coho salmon populations in the Strait of Georgia. The Pacific Salmon Foundation estimates they can eat up to a third of the salmon population.
"It would be nothing to take probably 3,000 seals out Haida Gwaii, maybe 1,500 to 2,000 sea lions, because the populations are crazy up here," said the 67-year-old Chief and retired fisherman who grew up watching his father and uncle hunt seals.
The society, made up of First Nations, commercial and sport fishers, fur and fish-processing industries, said the "harvest" would be done in a "humane" way. Its mission is to determine the best locations for processing seal meat, oil and fur and identify the best markets in the world for the products.
"It would be an industry like the meat industry," Jones explained. "We sent seal meat to China and it was well-received there."
He added that there is a demand for sea lion in Korea, which he said is "lighter" meat than seal meat, which he described as "a heavy acquired taste."
In the fall, the waters are full of seals, said the grandfather of six. He said that has a "devastating" impact on the salmon population his community depend on.
"It's a crime. I got grandchildren, we're depending on the fish that goes into the Skeena River and Fraser River, the Dean River and the Nash River now. We don't have any fish on Haida Gwaii, we got very little. It's very unsustainable for the population of Haida Gwaii. If we had to survive on it, we wouldn't survive."
Jones added that for a community that's "economically depressed," seal byproducts would be a boost.
"If you're not working for the government, for the band councillor, council of Haida Nation, there's no job security outside that. Even with Parks Canada there's no job security. . . everybody is contracted now."
Andrew Trites, director of Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, acknowledged the population of seals has rebounded to roughly 40,000 in the Salish Sea and a further 70,000 more seals elsewhere along the coast, thus changing the ecosystem.
The numbers sound high, he said, but they have been "stable" since 2000.
He added that there's not enough information on the consequences of removing seals from the ecosystem as the Pacific Balance Pinnipeds Society proposes.
"You may discover a decline in killer whales because they can't find enough to eat. There's some things we just can't predict right now," he said.
"The seals may just be the first in the food-buffet lineup to get their chance to eat them. Afterwards you've got other species that are eating them, particularly fish which are the biggest predators."
Dyna Tuytel, lawyer at Ecojustice, said that to mitigate the decline in chinook population -- the main food source for the resident killer whale population, short-term solutions like closing fisheries and creating feeding refuges should be considered.
Other alternatives like habitat restoration in spawning streams could be a long-term solution.
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