Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Fisheries and Oceans
Issue 7 - Evidence - March 29, 2012
HALIFAX, Thursday, March 29, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans met this day at 2:10 p.m. to examine and report on the management of the grey seal population off Canada's East Coast.
Senator Fabian Manning (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good afternoon. I would like to call the meeting to order.
We may have some new people in our audience, so I just want to welcome you to the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. We are in the process of doing a study into the grey seal population on Canada's East Coast. We had some very interesting dialogue before lunch today, and we look forward to a continuation of that this afternoon and on into the evening.
We have with us this afternoon Ms. Debbie MacKenzie from the Grey Seal Conservation Society. We certainly look forward to hearing from her.
Ms. MacKenzie, the process is that I will ask you to present opening remarks, following which we will have a question and answer period. If you are comfortable with that, the floor is yours.
Debbie MacKenzie, Director, Grey Seal Conservation Society: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you. My name is Debbie MacKenzie and I represent the Grey Seal Conservation Society.
The main thing I want to bring to your attention is a growing body of science that describes the physical processes through which seals make positive contributions to the health of ocean ecosystems. It is a big-picture impact. Recently, a series of peer-reviewed scientific publications has described and measured fertility boosting "ecosystem services" provided by marine mammals, including seals. I have given you five references on the studies to support that.
First of all, through diving, surfacing, feeding and bodily excretion activities, marine mammals actively transport significant quantities of plant fertilizer from deeper waters to the sunlit surface water. This stimulates the growth of plankton, the uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide by the ocean, and the production of food and oxygen for many consumers, including their own prey fish. Secondly, marine mammals and other swimming sea creatures contribute to turbulent mixing of the seawater, which also enhances biological productivity.
These two pathways of indirect positive impacts of seals on fish were previously assumed to be trivial. Ocean modelers have assumed that the life-sustaining job of physically lifting sunken plant fertilizers to the surface water and mixing seawater were accomplished solely by non-living physical forces, that is, by weather patterns and ocean currents. However, these "physical" processes are also managed separately by the power of living, moving animals. Large, deep-diving animals like whales and seals make the greatest contributions, and their presence has a significant positive impact on ocean fertility and health. Further, this marine mammal activity can probably counteract stagnant, nutrient-depleted, "stratified" surface water conditions that tend to invite the growth of harmful algae blooms, which are another growing concern.
Scientists have estimated that the massive removal of whales and seals from the Antarctic Ocean has diminished that region's capacity to support plant and animal life, including krill, and lowered its capacity to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Deep-diving sperm whales contribute significantly to open ocean productivity and to the burial of carbon in the deep sea. These are the findings in the references I gave you.
Closer to home, scientists have found that whales and seals in the Gulf of Maine actively transport a quantity of nitrogen into the surface waters that exceeds the amount delivered by all the region's rivers. This is especially beneficial during summer when phytoplankton — plant — growth is often limited by a shortage of nitrogen in the surface water. Although they called it "the whale pump," the scientists noted that seals have the same effect, and they calculated the nutrient-cycling benefit provided to the Gulf of Maine by 1,731 grey seals they estimated were there. Applying the same analysis to 400,000 grey seals in Eastern Canada will demonstrate how a significant contribution to the health of the ecosystem in this region is currently being made by grey seals.
This information has important implications for ocean resource managers. The authors concluded that "marine mammals provide an important ecosystem service by sustaining productivity in regions where they occur in high densities" and that "an unintended effect of bounty programs and culls could be reduced availability of nitrogen in the euphotic zone and decreased overall productivity."
Stressful environmental conditions are currently affecting or projected to affect the survival of many marine fish, making it particularly important that ocean managers place a high priority on preserving the strength of positive ecosystem services delivered by marine mammals. This new evidence of the positive impact of seals on fish stocks is reinforced by and helps to explain recent events on the eastern Scotian Shelf, where multiple groundfish stocks defied the predictions of "modelers" and the fishing industry by showing remarkable signs of rebuilding while sharing their habitat with an unprecedented density of "voracious" grey seals. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the impact of the dense grey seal herd on the Scotian Shelf has actually been to raise the "carrying capacity" of the area for groundfish.
DFO scientists and others have been frustrated by the inability of current fish "population analysis models" and "ecosystem models" to predict impacts on fish populations of fisheries management interventions and of naturally occurring ocean processes. Models now in use are just too crude. A crucial controlling factor and quantifiable ocean process that is entirely missing from the models now used to make projections is the positive feedback dynamic that naturally exists between large ocean animals and the plankton. For food web modelers, changing models to incorporate this information will mean a huge adjustment in their thinking and challenging major underlying assumptions that the current models were built on. Regardless, this must be done if fisheries scientists hope to improve accuracy in their modeled forecasting of sea life.
We now see the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence cod stock continuing to decline as the eastern Scotian Shelf cod stock rebuilds, while both cod stocks co-exist with large and increasing numbers of grey seals. This apparent paradoxical response of cod to seals suggests to me that environmental stressors negatively affecting cod are more severe inside the gulf than outside. Differences between the two areas include important water quality parameters, in particular the fact that a large oxygen-depleted "dead zone" has been spreading for years in the deep waters of the gulf, which has already forced cod to abandon part of its former range in that region.
When seals eat fish that have been made vulnerable to predation by other stress factors, seal removal is not an appropriate response and will not effectively prevent "natural mortality." In my view, this type of scenario likely underlies the apparent increased consumption of larger over-wintering cod in the Cabot Strait by grey seals, and such a situation cannot justify culling seals. It has been argued that removing grey seals from the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence would not threaten the future of the seal species because large numbers are thriving on the Scotian Shelf. The same argument applies to cod. Deliberately removing the seals, however, will carry an ecological cost we cannot afford, and doing so may very realistically make matters worse yet for the cod.
I ask this committee to urge the minister to perform his mandate under the Oceans Act to promote the "understanding of oceans, ocean processes, marine resources and marine ecosystems" by setting the terms of reference for new research, by asking DFO Science to do the following: first, to calculate and report on the current value of ecosystem services now provided by the grey seal herd, particularly in terms of enhanced primary productivity, and the model for that has already been done in the Gulf of Maine; second, to calculate and report on the projected plankton response to any grey seal cull, including the knock-on impact on plankton-dependent species; third, to develop new population and ecosystem models incorporating the positive pathways of effect between marine mammals and ecosystem primary productivity; fourth, to assess and report on the current risk of the occurrence of harmful algae blooms associated with stagnant surface water conditions, especially inside the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and offer science advice on the potential value of the presence and activity of the grey seal herd in mitigating this potential health hazard; and, fifth, to assess and report on the potential effectiveness of air-breathing marine predators in limiting "dead zones" in semi-enclosed waterways such as the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
This list of five suggestions for research is showing how questions could be posed to science that would elicit information about the positive impacts. The questions posed previously in the zonal advisory process were purely slanted to elicit negative hypotheses.
Please also advise the minister that Canada's "broadly articulated recovery plan" for fisheries must include a plan to refrain from using any interventions that will undermine processes known to enhance primary productivity, including the living presence of seals.
Finally, beyond the risk of ecological damage, other risks inherent in any grey seal cull or commercial grey seal marketing proposals support my recommendation that these initiatives be abandoned. Current seal marketing challenges will not be easily overcome and may become worse as relevant facts are examined more closely. Two problem areas are adequately controlling food safety hazards and the potentially inhumane slaughter of grey seals.
Canada must seriously rethink its commercial use of seals as a resource. Concrete recognition that marine mammals provide valuable ecosystem services that benefit everyone is spreading in both the scientific literature and the general public media.
Ecotourism focused on seals has untapped potential in Atlantic Canada. Besides actively enhancing the health of their own environment and their own prey, grey seals are intelligent and interesting, and they are some of the only large wild animals in this part of the world today that urban people can ever expect to encounter. This gives them good value as ecotourism subjects.
Those are my opening remarks.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Ms. MacKenzie.
In the essence of time, I want to advise senators that we have a very full slate this afternoon, so I am asking that you ask a question with a supplementary to give everybody an opportunity to ask questions. If we have the opportunity to go to a second round we will, but our schedule is tight.
Senator Hubley, please.
Senator Hubley: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Welcome, Ms. MacKenzie, and thank you for your presentation. You do bring another slant to this issue, one that we certainly appreciate hearing.
Your organization, the Grey Seal Conservation Society, was it formed in response to this situation on Sable Island? If so, why is it confined just to the grey seal?
Ms. MacKenzie: It was formed in response to the proposal for a grey seal cull on the Scotian Shelf. We chose it as a marine predator that is in the public eye, but if you read the materials, it is really promoting the protection of all ocean predators. The seal is an ecologically useful, large animal, that is being specifically targeted. That is why we focused on the seal.
Senator Hubley: My second question is one of clarity. You mentioned the fact that a large, oxygen-depleted dead zone has for years been spreading through the deep waters of the gulf. I have not heard of that before, and I am just wondering if you can give me a little bit more information on that. Has it been there forever? Is it a new phenomenon? What are the implications of a dead zone?
Ms. MacKenzie: As a semi-enclosed waterway, the Gulf of St. Lawrence is more at risk, as are other similar waterways such as Chesapeake Bay. Around the world these dead zones are increasing where the ocean currents have less power to sweep them clean. Deep channels run from where the St. Lawrence River outlet goes right out through the Cabot Strait, and there is a deep channel in from the Strait of Belle Isle as well. In the deeper waters that have been monitored for 70-plus years, there is a declining trend in the oxygen content of the bottom waters. This is found in the ecosystem status reports that DFO has produced on the region, and they have speculated as to exactly why. Regardless of why, the fact is that the oxygen content of the deep waters of the gulf has been gradually declining for many decades, and there are areas that did have cod in them that do not have it any more because of that. That is in their literature.
Senator Harb: I just came across something you said, and I would like you to elaborate it. You said that natural predators play a key role in the entire ecosystem. Prey species do better when predators survive, too. Eliminating large predators degrades the ecosystem, and this occurs everywhere from forest to grassland to oceans. What I hear you saying is this: Do not play God; let the ecosystem do it and take its course. Is that what you mean?
Ms. MacKenzie: Partly. I believe you saw that on the website.
Ecological studies, a lot of them terrestrial, have shown that eliminating large predators degrades the fundamentals of the systems, even grasslands and forests. It was not realized at the time, but there are subtle pathways of effect that destabilize and basically ruin it.
Senator Harb: The group of scientists that appeared before us this morning talked about statistics. They mentioned that in the early 1900s there were about 900,000 grey seals. Because of human interference with the species, the numbers went down and up, and it is now about 350,000. Do you share those statistics?
Ms. MacKenzie: I have no reason to doubt that. I personally do not count seals. I am sure that those are right. However, one of the concerns that hinted at is the advantage to a relatively quiet waterway of having active marine mammals. Marine mammal activity promotes health. When you look at the historic accounts of what lived in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it was really full of marine mammals. There were walruses, lots of whales and lots of seals. The grey whale was probably there. There were lots of birds, such as the grey hawk. Loads and loads of air breathing, relatively large fish predators were supported in that waterway.
I look at marine mammals as an asset, as a group, so it is not so much which species. If we mostly have grey seals, that enhances the value of protecting the grey seal for the ecosystem.
Senator MacDonald: I would like to learn a little bit more about the Grey Seal Conservation Society. How many people are members of this society?
Ms. MacKenzie: Eight.
Senator MacDonald: Eight people.
Ms. MacKenzie: It is small; a shoestring.
Senator MacDonald: There are 31 endangered species in the province of Nova Scotia. You have mammals like the martin and the lynx. You have the piping plover, a bird; there are about 6,500 of them. You have the Blanding's turtle, a reptile. You have the grey seal, which is not endangered at all. All of these other animals are endangered or threatened. Why would you put so much effort into a non-threatened or non-endangered animal when there are other animals in much greater need of help?
Ms. MacKenzie: That sounds like a good question until you realize that it is just a way to talk about ocean health. The Grey Seal Conservation Society is a way to talk about what constitutes a healthy ocean: how it works, what is in it, and what are the processes to keep it healthy. One of the processes that keeps it healthy is a lot of big animals swimming around and feeding and pooping, and it builds its own success that way by numbers. It is basically increasing the appreciation of that fact. It is about a healthy ocean more so than one species.
Senator MacDonald: Well, plants produce oxygen and animals produce carbon dioxide. These are standard things, and processes like that occur in the ocean. I am one of those people who also think that it is sustainable.
The fish population in the ocean is very important, whether it is cod or Atlantic salmon. When factors are at play that mitigate against the viability of these species, we have to do what seems to be reasonable in terms of addressing the problem. I submit to you respectfully that the problems of the Atlantic salmon and the cod fish in the North Atlantic are severe. The grey seal has really no problems at all in terms of its sustainability.
Ms. MacKenzie: I am not arguing that the grey seal is endangered. I am arguing that it is a valuable presence that does not harm the future of the cod or the salmon or any of the other fish. It is actually an asset.
You say that plants produce oxygen and animals produce carbon dioxide. Well, it is twisted around in the ocean enough that the animals actually accelerate plant growth, so the animals are producing oxygen by their impact. That is in the first of the five references I have given you.
Senator Cochrane: I would like to know about the research that you have done because you are saying that Canada must seriously rethink its commercial use of seals as a resource. How did you come to that conclusion from the science that you have done?
Ms. MacKenzie: I have not done the science; I am not a scientist. I review a lot and think a lot. I am a citizen stakeholder who really cares about this issue.
The Grey Seal Conservation Society tries to interpret the science and put it into sensible language that people can understand. It started out trying to help fishermen understand what the fish stock reports as I was their neighbour and their public health nurse.
To go back to your question, which was, I am sorry, my research?
Senator Cochrane: Your particular research.
Ms. MacKenzie: It has been reviewing everyone else's research. I have made a lot of shoreline observations of long- term ecological changes that demonstrate a decline in the plant growth success on the rocky Atlantic coast here. There has actually been a fair take-up of interest in that. The CBC did a documentary on it, which is archived on their website, in which scientists say, "This looks like it is worth pursuing," and pursuing the idea that animal activity makes plant activity greater, which is a significant ocean process. That was televised in 2004, and it is now becoming supported in the science that is coming out. They assumed that these processes were trivial. They assumed that there was a carbon neutral effect of sea mammals, but now they realize that an ocean full of animals actively takes more carbon dioxide into it.
There is a paradox in the southern ocean where if the predator is decimated, the prey does not do well at all. For example, when the whales were taken out of the southern ocean, they thought there would be a massive growth of krill, but there was not. The krill population went down. It is unintended consequences like that.
Senator Cochrane: Your own science is mostly made up of observations, is that correct?
Ms. MacKenzie: My science?
Senator Cochrane: Yes.
Ms. MacKenzie: I have described the changes I have seen over time on the coastline, personally, yes.
Senator Cochrane: Your work is done from excerpts of other scientists, is that right?
Ms. MacKenzie: Commentary on published work.
Senator Hubley: You made some comment about nitrogen levels. On some of the smaller waterways in Prince Edward Island, for example, there is too much nitrogen due to agricultural runoff. Plankton, et cetera, is choking up the streams so that they are no longer even viable for fish. Could you please relate that to what happens in the ocean?
Ms. MacKenzie: It is a well-known phenomenon that nutrient-polluted waterways trigger overgrowth and eutrophication. Too much plankton growth can sicken the waterway. It can die and become hypoxic. However, it tends to be localized, very limited locally. What tends to happen more in open waters is that it becomes too nitrogen depleted in its nitrogen limited productivity. The thing with nitrogen is that it is like anything else. Have you heard the saying, "The poison is in the dose?" It has to be the right amount. You can overdose a waterway locally. There are processes that use it up, which is an overgrowth of plankton and then bacteria rots it away.
There are vast areas of the ocean where the surface runs out of nitrogen fertilizers. Plant cells stop producing more food because they need more nitrogen; that is the thing limiting them. In that scenario, when you have surfacing animals lifting it up, it is a fertilizer pump. The dose is correct when it is delivered naturally and intermittently by animals. That does not sicken the waterway; it is the opposite.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. MacKenzie, for your presentation. If at any time in the future you see that you have more information you would like to forward to the committee, feel free to do so.
Ms. MacKenzie: Thank you, and if you have more questions for me, just send them along.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
I would like to welcome our next panel of witnesses and thank them for taking the time to come and present to us today.
I believe you are familiar with the process that we have here. We give you an opportunity to have some opening remarks, introduce yourselves, and tell us who you are. Committee members will then have some questions for you.
Please introduce yourselves. The floor is yours.
Susanna Fuller, Marine Conservation Coordinator, Ecology Action Centre: I am Susanna Fuller, a conservation coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, which is an environmental organization based in Halifax.
Robert K. Mohn, Independent Scientist, Ecology Action Centre: I am Robert Mohn, a retired scientist from DFO. For over 20 years I looked after the Scotian Shelf cod stock and have done seal/cod modeling through that same period of time.
Ms. Fuller: I think you have my speaking notes, but I am actually going to read from them just so that I am succinct.
The Ecology Action Centre's marine program began in 1990 following the groundfish collapse in Eastern Canada, so we have been very concerned about the status of groundfish stocks for many years.
We work on a local, provincial, regional, national and international level through fisheries and marine policy work, research, public education, market incentives and project-specific initiatives to promote sustainable fisheries and vibrant coastal communities. We are focused on marine conservation initiatives that are related to recovering the Atlantic marine ecosystem and maintaining existing sustainable fisheries.
That is my way of saying that we have never come out against a seal hunt. We are in support of fisheries that are ecologically sustainable.
With regard to the grey seal population in Eastern Canada, we feel that several points should be considered in any decision on management.
The first one is regarding management of human activity. As you may know, Canada has signed on to and committed to international ecosystem-based management initiatives, including but not limited to the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement, the 2001 Reykjavik Declaration, the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development Plan of Implementation, and the Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Targets. All of these instruments require the management of human activity as they are related to biodiversity in the marine ecosystem. The salient point in all of these commitments is the management of human activity, not the management of the ecosystem. When we are thinking about grey seals, it is the influence of humans that we are really trying to manage and that we have the ability to manage.
To this end from a science perspective, we understand the concerns that have been raised regarding the impact of grey seals on cod and are aware of the science that has been done, particularly in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. It suggests that adult cod are experiencing increased mortality, which can be partially attributed to seal predation. We understand the issues there quite fully. We also understand the issues faced by the fishing industry, particularly as a result of parasite loading in finfish species.
One of our projects is called "Off the Hook," which is a community-supported fishery. During eight weeks in the summer, I have fish that come to me filleted and unfilleted. I know what seal worms look like, so I have sympathy for that issue from the commercial fishery perspective.
We also understand that the ecosystem dynamics in seal populations in the gulf and the eastern Scotian Shelf are distinctly different and therefore should be treated as distinct ecosystem management issues. The gulf is one situation, and the eastern Scotian Shelf is another one.
The marine food web is very complex. We do not just have a seal/cod ecosystem here. We know that there is not just one interaction. It is unreasonable to claim that all cod mortality can be attributed to seals. That is very important in moving forward and understanding the science related to any management.
Secondly, seal predators, particularly sharks, which we know from published studies have declined in the order of 90 per cent in the North Atlantic, have not been included in any food web analysis. They may not actually be a factor in juvenile seal mortality here, but we do not know because we have never done that work. We do know from other places in the world where they have done work on shark residency at seal rookeries that there is a significant amount of juvenile predation. We have tended to look at just one piece of the food chain in a lot of the science that has happened.
The complexity is really important in understanding this issue. If there were to be a cull, what are the implications on the rest of the food web and what are we not looking at in terms of the other top predators that are not there that are affecting the mortality, particularly of seals?
From a perspective of policy and practice in managing human activities in Canada's oceans, Canada is one of the few countries in the world that has failed to have enforceable rebuilding targets. We know that in the U.S. the Magnuson-Stevens Act says you cannot overfish; if you overfish it is illegal. They have rebuilding targets based on timelines and they have to absolutely do them. We do not do that here. We do not have timelines, targets or recovering harvest rules for commercially-fished species. I know the rebuilding strategy is working towards that, but that strategy still does not have timelines and rebuilding targets.
Two decades following the cod collapse there has been no meaningful rebuilding of cod and the northern cod stocks are considered endangered by COSEWIC. While Canada is in the process of adopting a by-catch policy, this policy does not apply to commercial species that may be retained. Canada's framework for a network of marine protected areas has failed to include protections for commercially fished species.
The point I am trying to make here is that we have other things where we manage human activities on the ecosystem that were not taken into consideration and that we are not doing very well on either. I think the failure of fisheries management is the primary reason for stock collapses in Atlantic Canada. Seals are probably not the primary reason for stock collapse. Efforts to improve fisheries productivity should first look at the human impacts rather than seek other explanations that would not require us to change fishing practices.
From the perspective of public perception, which we deal with on a regular basis, I will be fairly honest in saying that we have gotten a fair amount of flak from other environmental organizations and animal rights organizations that do not support a seal hunt. We are quite aware of public perception, not only of our organization but the issue in general.
I think a cull would require significant investment of taxpayers' dollars, especially if it were done over a long period of time, which arguably would have to happen because we have no way of predicting the outcome of a cull at one time. Given the cuts at DFO Science in environmental management and monitoring, it is also doubtful that it would be in the public interest to fund a cull rather than the scientific monitoring analysis that we are in the midst of cutting.
Again from a public perspective, there is a little support for a cull, particularly on Sable Island. It has just become our newest national park. It would further polarize the international reputation of Canada on conservation issues and would provide additional fuel to the fire of organizations that oppose the commercial seal hunt. I would argue that is not what our commercial fishery needs at this time.
Finally, to reiterate, I think we have committed to managing human activities and we have not done a great job at that. To start looking at how we manage the ecosystem when we failed at managing ourselves is extremely risky, particularly when science cannot even predict what the outcome will be on the productivity of fish stocks.
Senator Hubley: Mr. Mohn?
The Chair: Do you have any opening remarks?
Mr. Mohn: I understand you have my submission. I will not read it, but in order to save time I will try to hit the highlights.
My involvement with this cod stock is summarized in the first figure, which is a history of the eastern Scotian Shelf of cod stock in terms of its biomass. We see that in the 1970s the stock started to fall very rapidly. At that time fishery science held that natural mortality was something small in the background, about 20 per cent a year, and fishing activity was the dominant driver of the resource. If you are fishing too hard, the model suggests fishing less; this is not difficult. The TAC went from 60,000 tonnes to 7,000 tonnes in two years. Immediately the stock recovered: "Our models must be right and we therefore must understand what we are doing." Pride is always a problem.
The stock rebounded for about 10 years and then started to fall quite rapidly. We thought, "We have already done this experiment once and know what to do; we will take the fishermen away again." The fishery was closed in 1993.
Twenty years later, the exact same experiment, presumably the exact same situation, but to the surprise of most people, the opposite happened: There was no recovery and the stock kept falling.
Simple models in understanding and trying to predict what will happen when you do something is a very dangerous game. In fact, about this time, and perhaps somewhat foolishly, I published a paper about seals and cod in which I said that because the seals were here, the cod are going to have a very difficult time coming back. Now we understand things better, but then again, there was another surprise from the system. It started to come back even though there were more seals than ever. That is the history of thinking you know what you are doing and then nature plays tricks on you.
Science is always trying to ask "why." The second figure shows that with some improved technology over the years we started to tease apart why this was. Of course, the first problem was that natural mortality is not a low background thing; it is a very dynamic thing. The natural mortality in the late 1980s and early 1990s shot right up, and it was the same sort of time that the seal population was getting dangerously big. Again, I think we showed a bit of pride in saying, "Well this must be because of that, and we have it figured out."
Probably the most important figure here is the second one, the natural mortality of the older cod. These cod are sexually mature, five years or older. It stayed at a very high level for about 10 years, and then miraculously, certainly surprisingly, it started to fall.
I must make an aside. This morning we heard that forage fish were responsible for that, which I do not think is true. I am sure we will come back to that question later on.
Again, the system fooled us, but as we look back and study it, we think we understand it better.
I am going to leave you with two ideas. The first is that complex systems do things that are surprising, with no warning. The second thing which falls from that is that if you are doing an experiment or an intervention of some sort, it must be done with unusual care with something this moveable.
My final word of advice would be, do not be surprised if you are surprised at what happens.
Senator Hubley: Thank you both for your presentations here today. It is valuable information for us. We have been studying this issue for some time. We would like to know if there are any answers out there, and to date we have not found very many. There are lots of issues. It is a complex system and we realize that. You have certainly suggested some issues concerning the management of human activity, the science, et cetera, so what do you think should be done with the grey seal, if anything?
Ms. Fuller: I think the problem is asking the question of what should be done with the grey seal as opposed to how we do proper ecosystem-based management. As Bob says, be ready for surprises.
A lot of my experience in things like the precautionary approach and ecosystem-based management has been foisted off onto scientists who are required to produce reference points or produce predictability, things around the ecosystem. Those things are very difficult to do from a scientific perspective, but I think we are getting better. There is more and more work on trophic cascades. The marine food web is not like the terrestrial food web; it is quite different. There is a new set of ecological paradigms that have to be established.
I cannot answer the grey seal question without a broader context. I mean, we are not going to address the population of grey seals and the perceived problems until we fully understand the ecosystem and better understand what might happen if we remove those grey seals. Will it help the cod return? We do not know. Will it reduce mortality on adult cod? We do not know. Will it reduce the parasite loading in groundfish? We do not know. Probably not for five or six or seven years until a parasite cycle is done and then we really do not know.
Has the shark population declined in Atlantic Canada the same as it has in the northeastern United States? What is the predation level from white sharks or Greenland sharks on juvenile seals? We do not know. I feel like there are so many things we do not know that it is a gamble to get rid of all the grey seals. It is a gamble not only from a scientific perspective but from a funding perspective and a public perception perspective. The stakes are fairly high. I think that we need to embed it in what we are doing about the Atlantic Canadian marine ecosystem and what our strategy is for ecosystem-based management that is not 100 per cent reliant on scientific predictability but rather is ecosystem-based decision making and precautionary decision making. We have not implemented those two things in Atlantic Canada yet, as far as I can see.
Senator Hubley: I want to correct one thing. We have no intention of getting rid of the grey seal. We are trying to look at reasonable methods of addressing what has become a significant problem for the lifestyle of this region and to better monitor and focus our attention on the grey seal at this time.
Mr. Mohn: You asked a fundamental question of what to do especially when we do not really know what is going to happen when you do something. I think the reason you are hearing so many divergent opinions is because we do not know and no one knows. If you have time, and I am sure you get tired of hearing this, you just have to study it some more.
Senator Harb: Thank you for your presentation. It is very important given the fact that you spent so many years with the department. Hearing you say what you are saying today gives that much more credence to your testimony.
What I heard from both of you is the fact that we do not really have a policy. Looking at other countries such as the United States and in Europe, pretty well wherever you go, they have a policy in place when it comes to issues such as fish stocks. When do you decide to put a stop to a fishery? When do you allow the fishery to take place?
What we have here in Canada, it seems to me, is a politically based system where a minister, at his or her initiative, decides whether or not the market should be open and the fisheries should open or close. I hear you saying that we should probably remove that from the politicians and put in place a policy that is based on sustainability. Is that what you are saying?
Mr. Mohn: That was my intention, but I think there is a lot of foundation to what you are suggesting in that if it is more a role by law and by science it does take that dimension out. I am a numbers guy, and you are taking me into her waters.
Ms. Fuller: I think ministerial discretion has been a problem in fisheries for a long time. I think science is starting to catch up, but the cuts to science are not helping us catch up. We are in the midst of trying to get some precautionary reference points for fish stocks in Canada. Arguably, the scientific process is also political, so I think there need to be more checks and balances in the system.
I work a fair amount in international fisheries through NAFO. I watch that process very closely. They have done a whole bunch of spatial conservation in the last few years that has been quite significant on the high seas. They have a harder time controlling who fishes what.
Canada does not yet have a by-catch policy; we have a draft. We do not have a rebuilding strategy; we have a draft. We are way behind developed fishing countries in terms of implementing the policies and practices of good fisheries management.
Senator Harb: It strikes me that the focus of the scientific community should be to inform politicians so that we do not intentionally turn a deaf ear to these issues. We are not hearing often enough from scientists telling us, "Smarten up you guys; leave the politics behind and put in a proper strategy that in fact deals with the issues based on science and evidence." Is that what we should be doing or what you should be doing?
Ms. Fuller: I think it would be great to hear from the scientists. Academic scientists are able to say those things and speak out about their publications. Government scientists do not often have the ability to do that or even to reach the politicians. Management asks questions of scientists and scientists respond, and then management makes decisions based on what science says. They are science-based decisions, but they do not necessarily always following the science.
We probably need a culture where science is used more. Science makes mistakes sometimes and sometimes cannot predict things, but science can tell you when it cannot predict things. That is where the management decision comes in around precaution and uncertainty. However, right now I would say that we are losing that capacity in science. We certainly do not have the independent scientific voices that we need to make those points to elected officials.
Mr. Mohn: Somewhat briefer — right on.
Senator MacDonald: I want to make a point about something you raised. I have heard a couple of times today the notion of polarizing the international situation as if we should be frozen over here and afraid to do something because of what people in other parts of the world might think. I have to put it on the record that I find it passing strange that in a continent like Europe where they can force feed geese in France until their livers explode and torture these animals or take a bull and put it in a ring and make a pin cushion out of it for an hour before they butcher it, I hardly think Europe has the moral high ground to dictate to Canada. I just want to put that on the record.
I am very interested in a couple of things. You talked about timelines and rebuilding strategies. Instinctively, I think I agree with you. I think there has been a lack of that in this country. I am just curious if you can put a little meat on the bones when it comes to those strategies. If you were writing up a strategy for the country in terms of an approach to rebuilding the fishery, what basic structure would you put together? What would the elements be?
Mr. Mohn: With my experience internationally, the first example that comes to mind is the U.S. and the Magnuson Act and the son of the Magnuson Act. They are very tightly codified on this science. If the stock falls to this level, then you must, within 10 years, get to this point. I think that is a good basis.
I did not get to my third figure because of time, which is about a rebuilding strategy. This was from our study on the recovery potential for cod. Science is moving in that way, but I think our policy is quite a ways behind what the science is doing.
Senator MacDonald: You raised a very valid point in regards to by-catch. I wonder if you could elaborate on that a bit.
Ms. Fuller: I am not sure how familiar you are with the sustainable fisheries framework being developed in DFO. Slowly, various policies relating to aspects of ecosystem-based management are being drafted and adopted. We have not had a by-catch policy in Canada ever. We do have by-catch limits on some commercial species. That is largely how we manage the cod fishery right now. For example, in the haddock fishery, there is a caught — no limit. We are not great.
I do not know if you are familiar with the B.C. groundfish fishery, but there, every single by-catch species has to be recorded. There is a quota for about 130 species, I think, and it is a tradable quota. There are problems with that system, but at least there are by-catch limits. What we have now is not so much a huge consequence of by-catch.
The other thing is that we have not managed how we fish. When the 200-mile limit came in, we did not do any better than the foreign fisheries. We did exactly the same thing, and we still do not manage how we fish that well. I would say we make decisions based on whoever has the loudest voice from industry from an advocacy perspective, and that does not always incentivize more sustainable fishing gear practices. I am getting away from the issue of by-catch, but some of our protected area strategies end up polarizing the fishing industry instead of saying, "Spatial conservation may work, so let us think about it and do it in an adaptive way."
We can take some lessons from the United States on that as well. They have had closed areas in place for a long time, and in some cases they have not seen recovery of cod, but they have seen recovery of haddock, scallops and significant other species.
In the integrated management plan, in which now they are proposing to "evergreen" — which means you really cannot do adaptive management — there has been nothing until very recently on by-catch and rebuilding and ecosystem-based management. We have not managed our fisheries in a holistic way. Legally obligated rebuilding targets would be great because then we have to do it. It would take out ministerial discretion and industry advocacy because you would not have a choice; you would be legally obligated.
Senator MacDonald: In the trips I made to the Grand Banks, I was always struck at the by-catch number that came in and that we were forced to throw back over dead. I thought it was a terrible waste, but they were forced by law to throw it over.
I believe that in parts of Newfoundland some small, local cod fisheries are allowed. Should this be allowed at all until the stocks are rebuilt to a level deemed acceptable?
Ms. Fuller: I have a split opinion on this. I think, given the status of the stock, probably not, but we need to also know the status of the bay stocks. For a long time we managed cod as if they were one huge stock, and they actually are not; there are small populations. I think we need to get a much better handle on that.
My organization fully supports small-scale, sustainable fisheries in coastal communities. As a result, we try to understand and know the science to the best of our ability. We also think that in order for sustainable fisheries to continue, we need sustainable gear types and that those things should be allowed and incentivized. It is a difficult thing.
Senator Cochrane: What is your relationship with DFO?
Ms. Fuller: My personal relationship?
Senator Cochrane: In regards to your position.
Ms. Fuller: I sometimes work for DFO on and off. I do contracts and things. I attend a lot of science meetings. I go to national science advisory processes, and I have been quite involved in policy development around the sustainable fisheries framework.
To my capacity, as much as possible I go to all the stock assessment advisory committees, which is difficult because there is one every week.
We have a regular quarterly meeting with the regional director general here, head of science, head of oceans, and head of management now, which we set up in the past two years. I can say that in the past five years the relationship with DFO and environmental organizations, particularly ours, has improved immensely.
I sat on a national fish habitat coordinating committee with DFO in Ottawa for six years.
I think I have quite a good relationship with DFO. I am a scientist, so I can understand and speak in terms of science.
Senator Cochrane: You are saying that all of the instruments that you mentioned, such as the fish stock agreement and the world summit of sustainable development plan, all of these require the management of human activity. Tell me what you are talking about here in respect of the human activity.
Ms. Fuller: Most of the international agreements and even FAO guidelines that talk about ecosystem-based management recognize that humans cannot manage the ecosystem, particularly when it comes to fisheries, largely because of the complexity and because we do not have control over it. We do have control over what we do.
The most practical and realistic thing is to manage behaviour. We manage fisheries, licences and quotas. That is part of managing human behaviour. I think that we think might try and manage the populations, but actually we cannot because, as Bob says, so many things are unpredictable; so we do the best that we can and argue that Canada could do a lot better on managing human activities that have an impact on the ecosystem. In the marine environment, it is largely fishing, but it is also oil and gas, and it is climate change, which is a whole new thing that is coming up that is really increasing unpredictability. We manage people; we do not manage fish stocks.
Senator MacDonald: You touched upon and the methodology you use to catch fish and the gear you use. I am curious what you think of reverting to a more traditional-based fishery in regard to line fishing.
Ms. Fuller: We have advocated for a long time for a hook-and-line-based fishery. We understand the implications that, especially with the haddock separator trawl, that now there is less cod by-catch in the haddock fishery on Georges Bank in particular. We think that we should have gear-restricted zones, particularly where there is a complex seafloor.
I do not know if you are aware of the news that came out yesterday of the integrated fisheries management plant for the B.C. groundfish trawl. They worked for the past year with a couple of environmental organizations to implement the United Nations General Assembly Sustainable Fisheries Resolution on bottom trawling or bottom fishing. They have frozen their footprint and they have by-catch limits for corals and sponges, and it is really precedent-setting. It is precedent setting in the world actually that that was able to be done. It has not been done anywhere else, with any territorial seas at all.
We strongly advocate for the fishery that has the least impact on the ecosystem and also maximizes the market potential and the money back to fishermen.
As an example, our community-supported fishery was able to give the fishermen, who were fishing haddock mostly, some hake and a little bit of cod, $3 per pound as opposed to 75 cents per pound just by finding them a niche market. It is a small thing, but it makes a huge difference in a town of 100 people where you have five fishermen suddenly making three times more for their product.
One of the things we really worked hard on in the past several years is doing positive work around the sustainable fisheries. When we started, we did a lot of work around raising issues around bottom trawling impacts on the seafloor. You will see now that it is a global issue and there are closed areas on the high seas and other countries are removing bottom trawling from their fleets. We do not hold a hardline position on it; what we hold is that we need to actually manage how we fish and be really cognizant of why we are doing that and really think about socioeconomic outcomes, especially in today's marketplace with sustainable seafood.
The Chair: Mr. Mohn, earlier you made a comment in relation to testimony we had heard regarding the forage fishery and being responsible. Did I take you correctly when you said, "I do not believe that"?
Mr. Mohn: Yes, you did.
The Chair: Could you elaborate on that, please?
Mr. Mohn: The picture I referred you to was the second figure I had, which was natural mortality of the older cod. These are cod five years and older. They would be bigger on the eastern Scotian Shelf. The mechanism by which forage fish interfere, I guess you would say, with cod is through reproduction. The eggs and larvae are what the herring, mackerel and sand lance eat. Once a cod gets to this size, the only thing a herring can do for it is be food.
The biggest thing we have been able to determine which caused the recovery of these fish is this change in mortality of the older fish. The forage fish — herring, mackerel and sand lance — are food.
I smile to myself because the person speaking spoke with such surety, and I think what I have learned over the decades is do not be too sure.
Doug Swain spoke this morning. He and I are writing a paper on this topic. In fact, it has been accepted.
The Chair: You both have added much to our study. Thank you for taking the time to be here.
We have a large group before us now. I see a few familiar faces that we have dealt with before. We are delighted that you had the time to come and present to us this afternoon.
I think some of you have been in the room for a while. The process is we ask you to introduce yourselves, make a few opening remarks, and then senators will ask questions e of you.
Mr. Morrow, the floor is yours.
Denny Morrow, Former Executive Director, Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association: I want to thank the committee for the opportunity for this industry delegation to address the committee on the grey seal issue. I was Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association from 1996 to 2011. I retired in December. One of the issues during that 15- year period or probably the issue that was the most frustrating and difficult to work on was the seal impact issue.
I will begin by pointing to the graph that I think Bob Mohn had shown earlier that shows cod abundance from the DFO survey vessel that is run every summer and started back in 1970. If you look at the graph for VsW or the eastern Scotian Shelf, it is correct that around 2007 there appears to have been a spike in the abundance in cod. However, the most frustrating thing from the industry perspective is that, as we have seen before, these little spikes disappear as the fish hit five years of age and mature. Something is eating them.
If you look at the graph, it is true that it peaked in about 2010 or 2009. In 2010, it went down again in the groundfish survey on the eastern Scotian Shelf. In 2011, it went down again. We are very interested in the survey results for 2012 because it looks like we have a pattern.
At the first grey seal impact workshop we had in 2007, a Norwegian fisheries scientist expressed the opinion to me that what we have here is a predator trap. The minute our cod stock, the remnant of it, throws out a good year class and starts to age and gets some size to it, it will be eaten up.
Next year will be the twentieth year that we have had a moratorium on cod fishing off eastern Nova Scotia. The industry in the Nova Scotia economy has foregone millions of dollars in export revenue from fish during that time. What we have exported has been our fishermen and our plant workers, and plenty of them.
By way of history, early in the 2000s I led an industry group in raising money to conduct research on the growing infestation of seal worm parasites in our commercial groundfish species, not just cod but haddock, cusk, white hake, all of our groundfish species. The reason I did this is because our fish plant owners and operators were calling me to tell me that there were areas where the fish used to be clean and our costs were very low for removing parasites, but that was no longer the case. I even had calls from fish plant owners in the last two or three years that I was working saying that they got a load of fish from such and such bank and could not even process it. It was not cod; it was haddock, I remember.
In 2003 I went to Iceland to talk to scientists and industry people over there. They practise a seal cull in Iceland. Their grey seal numbers are probably less than 10,000. They monitor the parasites in a sedentary fish, sculpin, and when the numbers of parasites start to increase beyond a certain level, they take the seal numbers down in that area. I think their cod quota last year was something like 160,000 tonnes. I remember somebody from their finance department I was having dinner with one of the last nights I was there said, "If we managed our stocks the way you do in Canada, we would be living in mud huts."
I was in Ottawa on an early winter day in 2007 meeting with Minister Loyola Hearn to talk about the grey seal issue and what can be done. I think the assistant deputy minister was Kevin Stringer. There was recognition by Minister Hearn and by Mr. Stringer that we did not know very much about grey seals. We knew quite a bit about the harp seals, but not much about grey seals. They did not have a good handle on how fast the grey seal was spreading into the western Scotian Shelf and to the Bay of Fundy and into the 4X region. We still have a groundfish industry in that area and we are very concerned that we are going to lose it. The seal discussion up to then had been focused on the harp seal hunt.
There is a protest campaign and questions about whether the hunt is humane. Meanwhile we have grey seals in our waters feeding 12 months of the year. There has been almost no hunt of grey seals except for a very small one off the coast of Cape Breton. In fact there was little desire from fishermen in Nova Scotia to hunt them. Our concern was the impact on our groundfish recovery.
I participated in the first scientific forum that DFO called at the instigation of Minister Hearn. That was October of 2007. In October 2008 there was a second forum to follow up on questions arising from that first forum. Both of these were held in Halifax and were international gatherings of scientists. There were scientists from the United Kingdom.
By the way, there is a herd of about 160,000 grey seals off the U.K. A scientist from the U.K. presented at those workshops and forums. There were scientists from Norway and also some participation from the United States as well as Canada's West Coast and East Coast.
I served on a grey seal task force from the DFO Maritimes Region that was established in 2009. We prepared research proposals that would focus on the western Scotian Shelf. We also helped do the planning for the grey seal ZAP, the zonal assessment program that took place in October of 2010. These three scientific gatherings and discussions clarified many issues and highlighted crucial questions, especially about the role of grey seals and the 4T cod recovering. There were some different conclusions about the state of cod in 4VsW than there was in the gulf. There was no conclusion about the impact in 4X and there was no research planned, which was very disappointing from an industry standpoint.
I have some thoughts about the conclusion that grey seals likely are having minimal impact on cod recovery in 4VsW. The seal diet sampling in that area has used modelling based on something called quantitative fatty acid signature analysis. It is a method of taking blubber core samples and trying to read the signature of the prey species in the oil in that sample. There was great reliance on this.
Also in October of 2010 when we had the grey seal ZAP, some BIO scientists were convinced that natural mortality had fallen and that the 4VsW cod stock was in recovery mode. Sampling on grey seals around Sable Island seemed to indicate that those seals preferred small cod and the real problem in natural mortality was large cod. For those three reasons, they came to the conclusion that although there appears to be a real problem with the 4T cod stock in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, there is not so much a problem with 4VsW. There was even a paper published in the Journal of Nature about the 4VsW cod recovery that theorized that herring abundance on the Scotian Shelf had been the key factor in preventing a recovering. There was no mention of grey seals in the article. You heard Bob Mohn talk about that earlier.
I would also point out that there is no herring abundance index for the Scotian Shelf. We have no idea what the herring population has been doing on the Scotian Shelf, so to try to link cod to herring abundance is an impossibility. My friend here, Dick Stewart, has spent a lifetime working in the herring industry, so perhaps he could talk about that.
I want to question the conclusion from the zonal assessment regarding minimal grey seal impact on 4VsW cod decline and rebuilding. First, I sent the committee a paper from Norway that was published in 2011. To finish the abstract from it, the last sentence says, "Thus, using blubber fatty acid composition as an estimation of prey use appears unreliable." The method that we seem to be putting the most emphasis on in trying to determine what the grey seals were eating on the Scotian Shelf has really been called into question.
Second, the survey results over a 40-year period in 4VsW seem to show that another promising year class that could trigger a stock recovery is being eaten up by unexplained natural mortality as referenced by the 2010 and 2011 groundfish survey results. There is growing evidence that grey seals consume large cod when they are available.
One of the things that was done off Cape Breton is that there was some sampling of the grey seals in the area where cod overwinter and they found a significant amount in their diet. I think 20 to 30 per cent was cod, and much of it. They found otoliths of large cod, so there is plenty of evidence that, given the opportunity, grey seals will consume large cod.
It is not acceptable to have important groundfish stocks written off and the people who depend on them for a livelihood without making our best scientific efforts to find the causes. In 4X there is still a groundfish industry hanging on in southwest Nova where species like haddock, pollock and halibut are fished with a small cod by-catch.
For the past 10 years, fisherman in western Nova Scotia have been seeing increasing numbers of grey seals in 4X and have noted that the geographic distribution has been spreading as well. New breeding colonies have been established on islands near the mouth of the Bay of Fundy and near German Bank, our most productive herring spawning area. The migration of grey seals into 4X is increasing at an alarming rate. The scientists do not know what is happening or what the impact is going to be, but the fishermen see it firsthand. A new grey seal breeding colony near Cape Cod grew from less than 10 animals in the late 1990s to over 10,000 today. Slower population growth of grey seals on Sable Island does not mean that the grey seal population on the western Scotian Shelf will not continue to increase.
I am going to finish off by repeating some recommendations from the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council on groundfish management strategy from 2011. We would like to see, as an industry group, the grey seal herd on the Scotian Shelf, mainly the Sable Island breeding colony, reduced by 50 per cent. The FRCC recommends that efforts start immediately on an experimental reduction of grey seals in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence to maintain the number of seals foraging in that area at less than 31,000 animals and that comprehensive monitoring of the effect on groundfish and ecosystem parameters be continued for a time sufficient to definitely test the effect on groundfish populations processes and parameters in that area.
A second recommendation from their paper is that a set of scientific meetings, workshops and ZAPs be convened to extend and explore the hypothesis about whether reductions of seals would enable or enhance the recovery of groundfish stocks on the western Scotian Shelf, in the northern gulf and off eastern Newfoundland.
The FRCC also recommended the funding of a targeted research effort designed to provide key missing information on seal diets, functional responses to prey availability, foraging ranges, behaviour, and methods of population control.
The FRCC recommended that strategic removals of grey seals be undertaken in specified areas so as to limit the expansion of the foraging, parasitism and colonization ranges into new regions. We would certainly include the colonies that have just been established at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy.
Finally, begin population reduction of the Sable Island colony through a program of contraception inoculation of female grey seals on the island during breeding season.
Some action by DFO on any or all of these recommendations would be seen as an encouraging development by the fishing industry.
With that, I will ask my colleagues to introduce themselves and to make their comments.
Adlai Cunningham, Director, Sea Star Seafoods Limited, Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association: I started fishing at 18. I spent 10 years as a fisherman and almost 29 years now as a fish processor. I made it my life to study fishing, seals, anything about fish and ecosystems. I am certainly not a scientist. Excuse if I sound a little bit condescending or frustrated, but at 58 and talking about this issue for as long as we have been discussing it, that is where I am today. Please take that into appreciation.
Before I get to what I have written, I just want to make a comment about the three scientists that were here. I am not sure that I will pronounce their names right, but Heike Lotze, Ms. Iverson, and Boris Worm made the comment that a massive cull has taken place of grey seals in other countries with no positive effect. I asked them afterwards — because to me I know better, or I think better — where did this take place? Neither of them could tell me one country in which it took place. One did mention Iceland. That is just untrue; that is like comparing apples and oranges. Iceland never had the problem we have with the quantity of seals. They do have some grey seals. They deal with the issue, but they are not taken to task by the animal rights folks. They still harvest whales and sell them to the Japanese. That is the first thing.
The second thing is they say that no matter what we do, there may be no positive consequences if we kill seals, harvest seals, get rid of seals, that nothing will happen. That being the case, humans are part of the ecosystem, too. We have evolved. We do not swim into the water. The fish show up at Sobeys. That being the case, taken to the nth degree, why are we under quotas? Why could we not just harvest away, harvest away, harvest away and it will all look after itself? I mean, we are part of the ecosystem. That is point number two.
The other thing is the U.S. and what they are doing to have their fishery recover. I am lost to come up with the term that they use. It is part of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Their East Coast fishery today is in dire straits, especially their cod fishery. Anybody that has been following this will see that they are in dire straits, so to hold them up as one of the countries that has "got it" and doing it right is just not true, sorry.
I do not know what time constraints we will be under, but I can start into what I have put down on paper. You all have it.
To me it is incomprehensible that today we are still discussing whether grey seals are having a negative impact on cod stocks. The population of these animals has ballooned to approximately 350,000 on the Scotian Shelf and eastern shore, with new breeding colonies established on the islands off southwest Nova, where I might add we still have a limited fishery. No one argues the fact that they consume approximately 550,000 metric tonnes of product from our ocean. Regardless of what it is, it is product and 50 per cent of it could be used to feed people. Their harvest of the cod stock seems to be to a point of contention among the scientific community, but any estimate that I have seen puts their take well above what we have been allowed to harvest for years on the entire Scotian Shelf. I am sure you are well aware of the quotas for fishers since 1993 in the area of 4VsW, or Sable Island, which has been zero. Some of you may have difficulty envisioning 550,000 metric tonnes, given their diets, regardless of whether it is 1 per cent of cod, 25 per cent of cod, 50 per cent of hake, or whatever. That consumption is well recognized among most scientists, not all scientists. Just imagine how many people that could feed. To put it into context, it is like one meter high by one kilometer square, which is a lot of food.
I do not want to spend a lot of time on the scientific part of the subject because I am sure you have heard from some scientists who actually let common sense enter into their hypotheses. When I refer to those scientists, I am definitely not referring to those who would write a paper that suggests a large population of grey seals may help the recovery of cod stock.
The real issue is a disconnect between those who live in the most altered environment in the world — and that disconnect is getting worse — namely our cities and the people who make their living on the oceans and have intimate involvement with the fish they try to capture and the forces of nature that act against them.
After three long, extensive ZAPs on grey seal interaction, which were previously referred to by Dennis, the latest being in October 2010, and the repeated recommendations by the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, there seems to be consensus that there is a connection between natural mortality caused by grey seals in the gulf but not necessarily on the Scotian Shelf.
Now, I am going to ask a question of everyone sitting around the table. Understanding the diets of mammals, us being mammals and of course seals, does anyone believe that the diet would be different from a seal living in the gulf and on the Scotian Shelf? They are opportunistic feeders. It is not like the seals in the gulf are going to say, "Well, hell, I guess we will go for hake tonight," and on the Scotian Shelf they say, "Well, I guess we will go out for a meal of squid." They are going to eat what is there. That said, they are going to eat what gives them the most bang for the buck, the most energy for the buck.
The Chair: I just wanted to advise you we have one hour set aside for your panel. We have a half hour gone now and we have three other people to speak before we start the questions. I do not mean to rush you, but we have other panels so we need to move on.
Mr. Cunningham: Understood. I will cut my presentation short. Some of it is repetitive in terms of what you are going to hear from the rest of the panel.
Another problem we face in southwest Nova Scotia is the cod worm. I think most of you have seen it now. That particular fish got as far as it did through the system — it did not get dewormed because someone in our plant made the decision that it might make sense at our cost of labour of $14.50 an hour to remove those worms. When it got to a different process, someone said, "No, it is not going to make sense." In other words, if we remove those worms it would cost more than we could get for the fish, and it is a high-priced fish. Subsequently, we would throw it in the garbage.
Now, this is not a fish that has a lot of worms in it relative to what we do see. As I said, this is a middle-of-the-road fish. Again, that just highlights the impact that the seal worm/cod worm is having on our fishery. It is not a cosmetic thing. It is not something we can just pick a few worms out of and say, "Oh, well, nobody knows the difference." You know that we are going to be competing with fish from all over the globe. We buy fish from every nook and cranny of the globe, unprocessed fish. There is no place on the face of this earth where there is cod worm infestation in cod fish that is worse than the Scotian Shelf. In particular today, we do not see fish in 4VsW from the 4X area. It is horrendous.
I could be here another 15 minutes and, trust me, I could be here another 15 hours; but in the light of the fact there are three more presenters, I will leave it at that. Thanks.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Cunningham.
Mr. d'Entremont, I believe you are next?
Claude d'Entremont, Director, Inshore Fisheries Limited, Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association: My name is Claude d'Entremont. I started working for the family company at the age of 12. I have been managing it since 1980. We are the third generation and we have fourth-generation kids coming along. We certainly hope that we can continue on with the family business.
We hear a lot of comments that are being made, and people are very selective. For example, Giovanni Caboto came across the Atlantic in 1497 and made a statement that he could lower a basket in the water and catch cod fish. A lot of people believed that. All it meant was that there was a bit of cod in that particular area at that given time; it did not mean the ocean was full. We can load up with fish in an area one day, and the next day there is none. Because that statement is in the history books, a lot of people believe it. However, when you have 400,000 seals eating a half a million metric tonnes of fish, common sense would tell you that it is detrimental to our fishery. A lot of people do not want to believe that, some even insinuating that it is helpful. I really cannot see that one.
Seals eat in the water; they do not shop at Sobeys. Whatever they eat is in competition with us, either the fish that we catch or the feed that feeds the fish that we catch. Either way, it is a problem.
Our fisheries are regulated. We are part of the ecosystem, part of this world. We have evolved and, yes, we have to manage how much fish we remove. We cannot manage the others.
In 4VsW the comment was that, let us go to an MPA and everything will be fine. We had a total moratorium since 1993, so everything is not fine. We can have a management system that says that we have a rebuilding plan in "x" number of years. We proved in 4VsW that it does not work, that it is a total failure.
We have the largest biomass out there. It is sustainable at this point — actually it is making us unsustainable, but the seal population is very sustainable. It is a natural resource and renewable. It is biodegradable if you use the skins for garments. You can use the meat for food and you can use the oil. We are all talking about this environmental friendly thing. Here is a good example of how we could do that. Instead of using oil to make non-biodegradable derivatives such as nylons that go in the dump, this is a sustainable resource.
Adlai mentioned the cod worms. This morning I left the office and had a three-hour drive to come here. A guy came to my office to pay for some fish that he had bought yesterday. He said he had complaints that there were some parasites, seal worms, in the haddock. That is an ongoing, growing problem. It is the biggest competitor we have out there for fish.
I do not want to go on forever, but the point is that we are either going to have to work towards a fishery or a seal population. The government has to decide who is more important, us or the seals. It is we/they because definitely it is a huge competition.
Dick Stewart, Atlantic Herring Co-op, Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association: My name is Dick Stewart, I am a manager of the Atlantic Herring Co-op, which is a co-op of purse seiners. I have been there for 37 years.
We do not have to wonder what the grey seals are eating in Western Nova Scotia — we know, because when we set a purse seine and there are 10 or 12 seals in there filling themselves up, we see them eating herring. That part is not a bother. The part that bothers the herring industry is the seals drive the herring from the spawning grounds when they are getting ready to spawn to lay their eggs. In areas that are close to the island, other members have mentioned that the grey seal herd has gone from nothing to probably anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000. The herring come into these areas to spawn and the seals drive them. They also do the same thing off of Halifax here and then down on the eastern shore.
We were never worried about parasites or seal worms in the herring, but now we are starting to find herring with seal parasites in them. It would be a tremendous problem if the herring were to get filled with parasites like the groundfish because herring are smaller. There is no way you could ever go through tonnes of herring to take the parasites out.
The seals are prolific. DFO has had cameras out on German Bank, probably the biggest herring spawning ground in North America, and they see them out there on the purse seine. Twenty years ago I never saw a seal on a purse seine; I never saw seals around the shore. Now you can go down to any of the island in southwestern Nova Scotia and it is just alive with them.
There are no predators to them. They just keep multiplying and spreading. Sooner or later they is going to annihilate the fishery unless we come up with some solution. Now, I am not sure what that is, but I am sure with all the brains in Canada, we can come up with something useful to solve this problem.
Richard "Bee" d'Entremont, Member, Acadian Fish Processors Limited, Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association: My colleagues have summed it up pretty good. I have more questions than anything. We know that in places where there has been a moratorium, the fish have not come back and the seal population has doubled and tripled in the last six and seven years, so how can some people blame the fishing industry on the decline in the stocks in those areas? I mean, those are the facts; we know that. We know they eat fish. Probably 90 per cent of their diet is fish. We all know that and we are still questioning. I cannot believe we are still sitting around the table and debating whether or not they eat fish. What we should be doing is discussing what level of a cull should we be — there should be a balance here, like we have for deer, like we have one moose, like we have for everything. You have to come up with a number that works. You do not want to kill all the seals either. You have to have a balance so the fishing industry can survive and the communities can survive and yet keep a herd that makes sense. The herd has doubled and tripled in the last six or seven years. Is it going to double and triple again in the next six or seven years? If this happens we will not be around the table talking about whether we should have a fishing industry because there will not be any.
Those are my concerns. By listening to everybody talk, if somebody that has no interest in the fishery can sit here say what they want, they have nothing at risk. The people in the fishing industry have everything at risk in this decision of what is going to take place.
I would like to see a number of where the seal herd should be. Set a cull, a good balance, whatever the balance is, and that is what we should be working on. That is what I would like to see if there is going to be a future in the fishery at all.
Senator Hubley: Welcome to each one of you for coming here today. I can only guess that being away from your livelihood you are not getting paid today for the work you are doing for us. We do appreciate that very much because we understand the situation.
I think the most important thing that you have been able to bring to the forefront of this situation — and we certainly knew about it — is the human element. You are the only groups that can do this. We hear about the challenges to your lifestyle, your livelihood, the investments you have made in your careers, but we have also heard about whether it is going to be sustainable. As Mr. d'Entremont has said, will there be a fourth generation in the plant and can we all look forward to using this resource in our rural and coastal communities? I would like to first of all say that I think that is very important.
Mr. Morrow mentioned quite a number of conferences and forums that he attended. Has a solution come out of any of those conferences? Has anything definitive been decided concerning what should be done with the grey seals in this area?
Mr. Morrow: I do not think there is a solution. I think there was significant progress in those three conferences and international scientific gatherings regarding the critical questions and what we know, especially on the diet issue. For example, somebody can say, "We did a diet analysis and it looks like about 1 per cent of the seal diet is cod." Then having some industry people there, we say, "Where did you do that? Are there any cod in that area?" For example, around Sable Island, think about it; there are 300,000 of them out there, and are there any cod around that area? It is not surprising that when you go on the island to do a diet test that you get very little cod. However, when we did the diet analysis off of Cape Breton in the area where the 4T cod stock overwinters, and there are some big fat cod there, we found them eating quite a bit of cod. In those discussions, scientists themselves started to rethink how they are doing their research.
The one thing I hope you take away is that when we do the 2012 groundfish survey on the Scotian Shelf and if, as we anticipate, the recovery that was talked about earlier has disappeared, and it is not the first one, what do we do? Do we just let it drop or do we go to the question of what has happened?
Given the three international discussions that we have had, we know better what questions to ask. For example, I believe that a remnant of cod out there has learned to co-exist with the seals, probably in deep water areas. However, when they have a good year class and it starts to grow, they have got to spread out because there is not enough food where the remnant is. When they start spreading out into shallow areas, traditional cod areas, they get eaten up. What we may be seeing on the Scotian Shelf is new equilibrium where the cod stock does not die off, but it never gets to the point where we can ever fish it again.
Senator Harb: Let me begin by saying that we all agree that grey seals do not end up eating cauliflower; they eat fish among other things.
Mr. Cunningham was asking about the cull in other countries and wanted to know where because the previous witnesses outlined that. I will list just the recent countries that have done it: Norway, Iceland, Namibia, South Africa, and the list go on. There are about 15 different places where they have done it, and then they looked at the result and there was no recovery in the stock.
Mr. Cunningham: Sir, with all due respect, that is totally untrue. I talk to Iceland every day. We import fish from Iceland every day. I was talking yesterday morning, just to get my facts straight. There was never a herd in Iceland to the extent that there is here. Seals are harvested in small amounts on a regular basis. It is hush-hush, kept very quiet. There are no sanctions placed on Iceland by animal rights activists in Europe. They are still sending fresh and frozen cod to major chains in England and the U.S. and they are still harvesting whales with no backlash. So with all due respect to the presenters and to you, that is just not true.
Senator Harb: Gentlemen have mentioned that you are either with us or with the seal. It reminds me of George Bush saying that you are either with us or you are with the enemy. There has got to be a happy medium here.
Mr. Morrow, in the presentation by Mr. Mohn was a graph which showed, contrary to what you said, that although there has been a recent increase in the Sable Island grey seals, the mortality rate of the five-year-plus cod have gone down and not up. That blows away your theory in blaming the seals for eating the cod.
Mr. Morrow: No, I dispute that. If you look at the groundfish survey result, and I think my friend Bob Mohn would back this up, the 2010 survey result started the abundance back down again and 2011 continued down. That is the spawning stock biomass; those are larger cod.
You are going to have two scientists here this afternoon, Michael Sinclair and Bob O'Boyle. That is a good question to ask them, but it appears that something is eating those large cod and that the natural mortality on them is rising again.
I would agree with the graph that for several years it seemed to go down. What is going on is interesting. As I said earlier, my theory is that I do not think that cod stock is going to be wiped out, but I do not think that it is ever going to recover to where we can fish it again.
Senator MacDonald: Gentlemen, there are not too many more questions that I can ask on this. We have been going over this stuff for months.
I am certainly convinced of the necessity of some sort of a program to reduce the seals along the East Coast of Canada. Everything you said today only buttresses those things.
There are a few seal islands in Nova Scotia. Which seal island is this one, the area?
Mr. Stewart: The one about six or seven miles off western Nova Scotia. There are hundreds of islands off western Nova Scotia. There are seals on all of them, mostly the bigger islands, on the outer islands.
Senator MacDonald: I found your testimony here in regards to the herring spawning stocks very interesting. Has there been any scientific study that goes into this?
Mr. Stewart: We spend a half a million dollars every year on surveying the spawning stock in western Nova Scotia with a purse seiner. We surveyed that area once and the stock was down. We still survey it and it has not come back. The seals have multiplied. Instead of the stock slowly rising, it is going down when we have not fished it for 10 years. The seals are half a mile from where the spawning stock is. There are just too many of them.
Whether they are eating herring is probably irrelevant. The herring are not going to spawn with 5,000, 6,000 seals chasing them. The spawning stock in that area will not recover while the seals are that plentiful. There did not used to be any there, and now there are thousands.
Senator MacDonald: When I absorb what is being said, I guess I feel the same way that all of you do. I hear people arguing and being adamant that the more seals there are out there feeding the better it is for the cod stock. I am just incredulous of hearing that stuff. I figure if those are your arguments, you are out of arguments.
Senator Cochrane: Mr. Stewart, in your brief you say that it is obvious with the amount of grey seals in the western area that the ecosystem is out of whack. At one time 99 per cent of the grey seals in Nova Scotia waters were on Sable Island, but they are not there today. What happened?
Mr. Stewart: The seals are there and have spread from Sable Island. Twenty years ago there were very few, if any, in western Nova Scotia, but they spread out. Sable Island can only feed so many and there are no fish around Sable Island, so they spread to western Nova Scotia where there is a big supply of herring and groundfish. This is why they spread, and they are getting more numerous every year.
Mr. Morrow: There have been some tagging studies of seals from Sable Island. One of the things that came out in the scientific workshops that we held is that there is some evidence that the males move westward down into the 4X area and the females tend to go eastward. I do not think anybody has a good handle on it right now. The fishermen do, especially our lobster fishermen along the Atlantic shore because they see them all the time. The population level in 4X and the migration into 4X is increasing dramatically.
Mr. Stewart: You are talking about the migration. There was a seal that was tagged on Sable Island and 13 days later his trip terminated in Pubnico, and I mean terminated.
Mr. Cunningham: Part of my presentation was the theory that the animals will max out on Sable Island because of carrying capacity, meaning food supply. That is what is driving them west.
There were two seals down on Cape Cod. We have been told by DFO scientists, and others, that these seals migrated, originally starting from Sable Island.
In 1986 there were two on Cape Cod. Today Dennis says 10,000; I am told 18,000. They are creating havoc down there.
As they multiply, they will spread out in terms of food, and you will see growth diminish in one area but subsequently increase in another.
Senator Cochrane: What is the U.S. doing about it?
Mr. Cunningham: The U.S., because of the Marine Mammal Protection Act which is law down there, has its hands tied to do nothing. They cannot even shoot a seal with a nuisance permit as we can if it is bothering our fishing practices.
Mr. Chair: Thank you, gentlemen, for your presentation and great information.
I would now like to welcome Shannon Lewis from the Northeast Coast Sealers Cooperative of Newfoundland.
I am sure you are used to our system where you have the opportunity to make a few opening remarks and the floor will be open for the senators to ask you questions. The floor is yours.
Shannon Lewis, Executive Director, Northeast Coast Sealers Cooperative of Newfoundland: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ladies and gentlemen, members of the Senate Committee, my name is Shannon Lewis and I am Executive Director of the Northeast Coast Sealers Cooperative, a harvester owned and operated seal processing facility located in Fleur de Lys, Newfoundland.
I would like to thank you for inviting me to participate in your grey seal study and for giving me an opportunity to speak to you about my observations of the industry, my perspective of the grey seal situation and express my opinion on future management of the stock. My comments are not judgments of the past or present but simply my professional observations of what I have seen in my employment with the company.
Our company was established in 1986 and has a membership consisting of 620 members from Newfoundland and Labrador, the Quebec North Shore, the Magdalen Islands and Nova Scotia. The co-op was created by seal harvesters after the initial closure of markets during the 1980s to ensure that the sealing industry would continue and to provide a sales outlet for sealers to re-establish seal markets. The mandate of our co-op is to reach full utilization, processing of the resource for the economic benefit of its members, employees and community in which it operates in a responsible and sustainable manner.
I have been executive director of the company for the past eight years and I am responsible for all business operations. My personal history in the sealing industry goes back to the original beginning of the co-op, since the processing facility was established in the home town which I am from, a small rural fishing community on the rugged shores of the northeast coast of Newfoundland. Through my upbringing and employment experience with the company, I can directly relate to the social and economic impact to the sealing industry and what it has meant to our rural community and province.
I hope that our discussion will enlighten you and provide a view that you can relate to in order to find solutions to the current management of grey seals and, more broadly, all seal species in the waters off of Canada.
It is my opinion that the management of grey seals is a delicate situation that impacts not only the localized maritime stakeholders, but all stakeholders in the larger Canadian sealing industry, and fishing and seafood industry. Future management decisions are vitally important, and it is important to view this process diligently and to understand the complete picture and the interactions into other industry sectors to determine an appropriate course of action.
I understand the current concern of exploding seal populations and am equally concerned with the populations off our East Coast and the detrimental impact they are having on our fish stocks. However, the question that needs to be answered collectively as stakeholders is what is the best approach to deal with these challenges?
I would like to state up front that I do not concur with a cull/bounty scenario as a management solution, but feel a cooperative and coordinated effort between all stakeholders can determine viable and long-term solutions that can provide a social and economic benefit that responsibly and sustainably utilizes the resource.
My knowledge and experience in the industry leads me to believe there are better alternatives than simply engaging in removals that will underutilize a valuable opportunity for Canadians.
The first introduction I had to grey seals with Maritime sealers was when I decided to purchase harp seals from them. I engaged in discussions with them at the annual advisory meetings held every year to discuss sealing issues. I witnessed the continued frustration from sealers and their pleas to processors and to DFO to address the grey seal and to develop market opportunity. Addressing grey seals was continually downplayed and larger seal management issues were prioritized. Harp seals were what dominated these advisory meetings. The processors that attended these meetings lacked interest in developing or investing in the grey seals as a commodity because of their own internal positions.
The business of grey seals has existing challenges. There is no processing capacity in Nova Scotia. There is a historic lack of TAC, and existing restrictions to adequate resources, meaning Sable Island, are a problem. Traditionally the Newfoundland processors refrained from entering into trying to market the grey seals because the TAC was only 1,900 or 2,000 seals, which meant it was not economically viable for them. Today, if we look at it from an economic point of view, we must address the issues of accessing Sable Island. Given future park considerations and limitations of access within a park, those issues have to be addressed if you want to harvest seals on Sable Island.
There is a lack of product knowledge and experience in marketability and harvesting logistics. There is a lack of commitment from governments and private stakeholders to engage in thorough development initiatives, which include harvesting to market, appropriate data gathering and building capacity, both intellectual and physical. There is also a lack of financial and human resources relevant to the seal business.
All of these are very serious challenges, but they are all able to be overcome. These possible solutions can be found if the desire is there by the stakeholders to enable a viable economic opportunity versus a straight cull where animals are just dispatched and discarded.
With respect to the business of grey seals, the reasons to engage in an economic model of management are, first, an adjacent and abundant resource for Maritime fishers and harvesters. It is right on their doorstep. They have less cost to incur in harvesting these animals than travelling 200 miles offshore of Newfoundland. It is a renewable and sustainable resource. Full utilization of the resource can provide significant, direct, economic opportunities to resource-dependent communities. You have to recognize that the fishing industry is made up of rural communities that depend on natural resources. There are small communities with plants in different locations. We have to maximize the utilization of our natural resources, and that has to include seals.
A cull and bounty is a waste of that natural resource if we do not utilize it to create economic opportunities, and it undermines existing marketing. From our point of view, as a Newfoundland processor, if we were to cull animals and discard them, that would undermine our existing efforts to develop market opportunities utilizing meat, oil and skins. When we go into a market and a gentleman says, "I want a price on your product," and we offer out that price and he says, "Well, I want it for less than half price because you are discarding a load of seals off of Nova Scotia, throwing it away, so it is not very valuable," that undermines our efforts. We cannot afford that.
We will get into some of the other aspects about seals in a minute, but we have to ensure that we can achieve the best return on that material. We cannot afford to be undermining our markets.
A minute ago, we said we said there must be a balance, so is it better to apply economic participation, or is it better to create a cull or a bounty situation where there is a direct expense to the government? There is no return on that money.
A cull relays the wrong message and devalues our existing markets, as I had suggested. The reality of today's Canadian sealing industry is that it has been significantly impacted by the economic uncertainty in traditional markets with the tail end of the recession. We saw some hard times a couple of years ago, and the restriction of market access today. The industry is consistently being attacked by animal rights groups who engage in propaganda messaging, distribution of misinformation, and engage in what industry feels are inadequate, unmonitored activities endangering the lives of sealers. There have been repeated incidents on the ice where there have been confrontations with sealers and animal rights activists where there was no observation by officials from the government who could mediate these situations. This is a cause of very serious concern to our sealers.
The industry is continually developing operational protocols and controls to increase regulatory oversight, professional development and quality assurance.
The sealing industry has a great future; we are evolving as an industry. We have made lots of mistakes in the past. We have done some things that have not been the best way to manage our businesses, but we have an opportunity. We have to look forward, and diversification and full utilization is the way of the future. Identified opportunities have been discussed in these meetings about the health benefits derived from seal products. We are only scratching the surface of these types of initiatives. Pharmaceutical and nutraceutical applications are important to the health of people.
This industry has to evolve in order to go forward. We cannot continue under the current business models. Our industry has to be about human health, providing products that benefit human people, not perceived as a one-stop fur industry. That might have been yesterday, but that is not today and it is not tomorrow.
With respect to the realities of large, unmanaged populations and their impacts, the first is increased pressure on other stocks by consumption. On the next page you will see two or three pictures of a seal stomach. We have heard a lot of talk about seals consuming fish, and I do not dispute any of those situations. However, the pictures in front of you, ladies and gentlemen, that is not herring and that is not mackerel; that is female crab. That is the breeding stock of our fishery in 3K. That seal was dispatched in Middle Arm White Bay two years ago. Try to count how many female seals in that photo; try to count them. I started last night. I got over 150 and had to stop. Each one of those little round pieces in the picture that is attached to that document is a female crab back. I am not a scientist, but I assume that if they do not find mackerel or herring or cod to eat that they will turn to something else. Like any other mammal that is on the face of the earth, if it is hungry, it is going to eat something.
With respect to the decrease in availability of raw food required to maintain commercial fishing activities, that is what is going to happen if we do not get this current seal population under control. I am not suggesting that we should be culling or removing an amount of seals that is unsustainable or endangering the population, but we have to find a medium that will ensure the stability of our other fish species and stocks in order for these rural communities in Atlantic Canada to survive. The fishing industry is what we, in rural Atlantic Canada, survive on.
The collapse of the rural-based economies will mean an increased requirement for social programming. You have to recognize that all of these communities are not going to resettle. These people will maintain their premises. They have done so for hundreds of years, and if we cannot provide economic opportunity, it will fall back in the government's lap.
Next is the collapse of an important supply of food to the public. We supply the world with high-protein food. The Canadian seafood industry supplies the world with food. There are world food shortages all over the place, and seal has a very important place in filling some of those gaps.
I would ask you to look at appendix number 2 and the nutritional analysis of seal. Has anybody in these meetings discussed nutritional analysis? As an industry participant, it is important because we do not talk enough about the benefits of what is in a seal. We need to be better communicators of why it is important to consume it.
There is also an appendix, which I will leave you to read, about seal oil's strategic advantage. If you take the time to read that little short document on the back of that, you will find that seal oil can be attached to multiple health benefits. In fact, the EPA and DHA in seal have been recognized as improving human health and aiding in the fight against 35 different diseases that are impediments to humans. There are some very serious things that it can help you with, but we need to be better communicators of this information.
Full utilization of a renewal resource in a well-managed and sustainable manner that provides products that are important to improving human health is the ideal way to manage and utilize the seal resources in Canada. It is my hope that conducting activities in this manner through a collective and coordinated effort by all stakeholders will improve the image of our seal industry as one that supports health versus the misleading impression of a "fur only" business. I am not interested in operating a fur-only business. I am interested in feeding the world a high-protein, high-value product and to look at some of the value-added opportunities that are out there that will really make our seal industry reach the potential of the economic opportunity that it represents, which is hundreds of millions of dollars.
I will give you an example. I just came back from China. I pulled a bottle of seal oil capsules off the shelf in China. There were 120 capsules in the bottle and it sold for $45 Canadian. There are 2 million seal oil capsules in one tonne of seal oil, and 35,000 grey seals will give you 450,000 tonnes. Now multiply that by 2 million divided by 100 and then times it by $45.
We are struggling to find answers of how to deal with the grey seals. The only thing that I can say is that are some gaps between the fishermen and industry. There are some gaps between government and industry, and there are some gaps between the government and the fishermen. We are not at the same table discussing these solutions. I hope that is what this is, an opportunity to discuss these solutions. Let us put the problems on the table and find the solutions. Let us not just throw some money to a bounty and make it an easy fix because it is not going to be an easy fix. It will destroy the rest of the Canadian sealing industry and it will be a short, Band-Aid solution.
Senator Hubley: Welcome, Mr. Lewis. That was an interesting perspective from a seal harvester, with a business to boot. Whereabouts is your business located?
Mr. Lewis: We are located on the northeast coast of Newfoundland. If you look at Newfoundland, we are right here, on the very tip.
Senator Hubley: Your company name, is it under just the Northeast Coast Sealers Cooperative?
Mr. Lewis: Yes.
Senator Hubley: How many seals do you process in a year and where do they come from?
Mr. Lewis: The sealers co-op began harvesting seals in 1986 because there were no markets, so our organization volunteered to harvest some seals. They manually removed the blubber and dried those seals and sent them to market. They started from scratch and then gradually started to reinvest in putting these products into the market.
In different years, we harvest different amounts of seal. As the minister and Alastair O'Rielly suggested today, we harvest what we are able to sell. We do not stockpile product. In the last couple of years we went through a cycle, a very big up and a very big down, and the last three years have seen a very significant down.
Senator Hubley: Can you give me a number? Give me a high and low just so we will know.
Mr. Lewis: A couple of hundred thousand in the last four years.
Senator Hubley: What do you feel was the cause of that cycle?
Mr. Lewis: My opinion is that as an industry we were not diversified enough. We were very vulnerable to the recession because the seal products we were focusing on at the time went to places like Russia, where the economy hit some very recessionary times. We were not diversified enough in other markets to maintain a steady pace.
Right now we are in a position where our markets — there are people who want our products: our skin, our fur products. There are people who want all of our oil products and there are people who want all of our meat products.
However, the problem that we have today is some of these larger markets are restricted by access, as was suggested today. There are a lot of people in other countries, not necessarily Canada. We have done a fairly poor job of pushing products within Canada because the problem was that the larger, more profitable markets were not in Canada; they were in places like Russia or countries that were paying for those types of products. We were vulnerable, and some of that is our own fault as an industry.
Senator Hubley: How many cooperatives or seal processing plants are there in Newfoundland?
Mr. Lewis: There is only one seal processing cooperative in Newfoundland. Today, there are only two seal processing facilities in Newfoundland.
Senator Hubley: And how many employees?
Mr. Lewis: Traditionally we employ 45 people. I want to talk a little bit about that because I think you are touching on some very good issues.
In 1986 when I moved to Fleur de Lys, I was a young boy and the seal processing facility began. We had 45 trap skiffs in the community and 20-something longliners and everybody was fishing. There were 800 people in the community. The sealing industry began and the people went to work in that seal plant, which maintained their existence along with the fish plant and the crab plant. For the last 10 years, the seal plant has been the only direct fishery processing facility that those people were employed in. Now our population has dispersed because people looked at other opportunities like Alberta and we saw a lot of out-migration. Children were growing up and they were becoming educated and they moved on. However, the core group of that community is employed by that facility. Whether they are employed 23 weeks at that facility and some additional weeks of off-loading activities on the wharf, or whatever, it all adds up to a year's wages. Without that sealing facility in our community, there is no sustainability for our community.
Senator Harb: I agree with you that a cull and/or bounty is a waste of resources, a waste of money and will have a very negative impact on the reputation of the industry, as well as the reputation on Canada on the whole.
I am just going to ask you a tough question. The market is shut down throughout the world, pretty well. Every month we have another country or two shutting down the market. You do not have to answer me now if you do not want to, but with so many people in Atlantic and rural Canada in the industry, do you believe the time has come for the government to set up a program for those who are in the industry to transition into other industries or to compensate some of the people who are in the industry and cannot make it anymore? Do you think it is time for us to start to openly discuss this issue?
Mr. Lewis: Unequivocally no. The realities of what you are suggesting I do not think are realistic because the Newfoundland government representative discussed today how many seal licence-holders there are. There are actually 11,000 seal licence-holders, about 4,000 or 5,000 or 6,000, depending on the market prices, who are active. You have to remember that most of those 6,000 individuals are fishermen. For the fishermen who harvest crab and mackerel and herring, actually very little herring on our coast but crab and mackerel and shrimp and those things, that sealing revenue is a very important part of their business. They have seen very serious constraint on their fishing vessels and their economic ability as entrepreneurs since the reduction of the sealing markets. That is one aspect.
The reality is that the seal population off the East Coast is 10 million seals or 9 million seals or 7 million seals, but it is a seriously high number. If we enter into discussion about the removal of the sealing industry as an economic opportunity, how do you propose managing the seal herd?
Senator Harb: Let me clarify: We are not dealing with the small mom and pop shop; we are dealing with commercial sealers, commercial industries, those who are involved in the commercial seal hunt.
Mr. Lewis: The commercial seal hunt?
Senator Harb: Yes.
Mr. Lewis: The commercial seal hunt includes about 12,000 people in all of Newfoundland in any given year. It is not moms and pops because I have cut cheques for over $150,000 to a sealing vessel, which is not small change. If I decide to go out and buy seals this year, there will have been seal harvests last year. We purchased a smaller amount of product last year, but I will tell you that I purchased product based on full utilization. I purchased meat and oil and skins. One- hundred per cent of that product came to that wharf of the facility that I work at, and I cut cheques to that boat for over $70,000.
Senator Harb: Right.
Mr. Lewis: And that was six individuals on a harvesting vessel.
Senator Harb: Last year's figures show that under a million dollars came out of the industry overall. However, if you spread that around to over 6,000 sealers, that is not very much money, is it?
Mr. Lewis: I am wondering where they get those numbers. I really do because we all have reporting. I mean, I have documents that I have to report to the government about how much money I pay sealers or some kind of reporting system, but where does that number stop? That number obviously does not take in the retail value; that number does not take into account that if 700 tonnes of seal oil was landed last year at $6 a kilo, that obviously does not add up to $700,000. That does not include that, so I wonder where these numbers come from. I do not necessarily put much faith in those numbers.
I do agree that the seal industry last year and the last three years has been restricted, but going forward, I think that we can diversify what we are doing and it will be much more financially beneficial and much more palatable to the public.
Senator MacDonald: I want to talk about the cooperative and the processing of seals. You said there were two facilities, is that correct?
Mr. Lewis: Well, yesterday it was announced that one of the facilities will not be operating this year, so basically there are two seal processing facilities remain open in Newfoundland.
Senator MacDonald: Am I right to assume that most of the seals that are processed are harp seals?
Mr. Lewis: That would be correct, yes.
Senator MacDonald: Can you give me a breakdown of the range of product that comes from the harp seal?
Mr. Lewis: The range of existing product or foreseen?
Senator MacDonald: Yes, and potential product.
Mr. Lewis: Potential product is important. I will not sit here and tell you that we are doing all the products that we should be doing as of today because we are not. A lot of the last 15 years in the sealing industry was based on prime markets that yield high-margin profits. Those potential markets are still there. The demand is still there because we have seen an increase since the economic recession. We were starting to build back up, but now we are faced with market restriction. The opportunities going forward into developing products such as meat for human consumption, meat for protein powders, meat for nutraceutical applications, meat for pet food and meat for bone meal are all products that could be developed. However, the industry in general has not put a lot of investment into those products in the past because you have to remember that product and marketing development takes a lot of money. A serious investment is required up front; it takes a lot of effort.
The sealing industry was already profitable. They were already making a significant return on the products that they were utilizing in the past. In order for us to survive going forward, we have to diversify. We should be diversified anyway. As far as I am concerned, the most responsible thing to do is to utilize the whole thing. The larger returns in the future will be in the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical areas based on the health benefits from seal.
You also have to remember in the big scope of things that seal oil and the health benefits that are derived from seal are relatively new concepts. I mean, 15 years is not a long time in history. As a society, if we have been looking at the health benefits of seal oil or Omega-3, we are only just scratching the surface. Medical research is being conducted in Asian countries because it is cheaper to do so. They are looking at applications for seal oil for treatment of fatty liver diseases. They are looking at treatment from seal meat or seal organs for kidney function. These people are very familiar with seal. Western countries are less familiar with seal than Asian countries. They have been studying natural medicinal applications for thousands of years, so they are further advanced in utilizing this natural resource than we are today. That research is being conducted today.
Senator MacDonald: I want to pick up on one element you spoke about. The grey seal of course is extremely rich in Omega-3. Although I think it might be a bit of a challenge in Canada or North America to create a viable market for seal meat as food, I can certainly see it as a secondary food such as pet food or as a fertilizer of some sort. I also think there should be a great domestic market for Omega-3 oil. As an alternative, is your cooperative looking at creating a domestic market for this product in the next few years?
Mr. Lewis: Yes, I see a domestic market. I am not saying that it would be the largest market but we definitely do see a domestic market.
I want to make a point about the grey seal. The unfortunate thing about the grey seal opportunity that I saw — and I have only been at this for eight years. I know there are gentlemen behind me that ran through this process before I did, but the problem with why the grey seal opportunity did not commercialize in the last five or six years was circumstance. The allocation that was there previously was only 1,900 seals and it was not commercially viable, but an allocation of 20,000 is commercially viable on scale. There is no reason why we have to walk out of this room and say we cannot harvest 20,000 seals. The thing is, we could harvest those 15,000 or 20,000 seals before, but we had to go to Sable Island. I just want to add that.
To get to your point about a domestic market in Canada, yes, it is a priority. Any opportunity to highlight the benefits or enter into a market that will accept Omega-3 is very serious. That will be the future, and meat will play a part into that nutritional product as well.
Senator Cochrane: Newfoundland does have a large number of seals. The number that has been quoted is 400,000. In the meantime, you have an economic activity and you are using some of those seal pelts. What I do not understand is that on the one hand we have you in a business and we have the fishermen on another hand with another problem. We have to come to some middle ground, the sooner, the better. Fishermen are telling us one thing and you are telling us the sealing industry is vibrant. What is the bottom line?
Mr. Lewis: It is a good point. The sealing industry has an increased potential to be more viable going forward, but the last couple of years have been hard. In my opinion, we have to sit together in a serious forum that has an objective to create or identify or collaborate to get the economic opportunities moving out of the sealing industry where sealers and government and industry can all participate. Given the last four years of pressure and lack of economic viability, the current sealing industry has lost money. In the last few years, as companies, all of us have. We are in a position now of survival. The problem with grey seals and getting to full utilization with these other aspects of products we have been talking about is financial resources. I am not going to sit here and ask for a subsidy because I do not think we want a subsidy in the sealing industry, and I do not think anybody would agree with it. However, I do think that the sealing industry is a renewable, natural, sustainable resource. It is a resource the same as the forestry industry in B.C. or the same as the agriculture industry in the Prairies. It is a resource, and from time to time we need to invest in our resources to develop an economic opportunity. If you do not see that economic investment in regards to the grey seals, you will not see it developed because the current seal processing facilities do not have the resources to invest in that processing advancement into grey seals at this given time. By working together, we should be able to come up with a better solution than simplifying the issue by culling seals and disposing of them without utilizing their raw material.
Senator Cochrane: Fishing has been there for years. While we are developing your new industry, what will the fishers do?
Mr. Lewis: Throughout the years, an extensive amount of research on product development has already been conducted by different bodies, whether in Newfoundland or even in Nova Scotia. A lot of the base material is already on the shelf in regard to identifying the products, markets and preliminary costs. The gap is bringing that basic research from off the shelf, putting it into a pilot production where you are doing some scale of processing, doing some scale of market identification and marketing work, and bringing it to commercialization.
I am going to tell you that we are very near the brink of bringing these products to market. If we had access to some of these markets we are referring to, we would have the investment required to bring that report of how to make protein seal powder off the shelf and make it commercial within the next season. However, market access is a problem. There is a gap relating to the investment to bring it from the research aspect to a pilot production and then to a marketed commercial product. A lot of times with the funding programs that are available through the government it is hard to bridge that gap from research to commercialization. There are program issues and there is no bridging.
Senator Cochrane: Mr. Chair, I just want to continue for a second. This is really important.
Is your plant open all year round? I totally agree with you in regard to medical opportunities and the potential for seal oil. We had Chief Roy Jones appear before us last week in Ottawa — an amazing man — telling us about the advantages of taking seal oil capsules and what it is going to do to the health of our people. I am concerned because a lot of our seniors are unable to pay for drugs, but they can probably get seal capsules much cheaper and they has advantages.
I mentioned it to the minister from Newfoundland this morning. Maybe the Department of Health and other departments should get together and initiate a campaign to promote the oil from the seal as a medical breakthrough, because it is there.
Mr. Lewis: Our plant is a seasonal operation. In Fleur de Lys, in our location, we do primary processing, so we offer as much opportunity as possible. We do other fishing-related activities that keep those workers employed in the summer months or to a sufficient level. However, the diversification of the sealing industry will create opportunities for full employment in a big way.
I know Chief Roy Jones very well. He is a very good advocate of the benefits of seal oil for sure. Most of the general public does not recognize that seal oil is the most superior source of Omega-3. They just do not recognize it or we have not communicated it. We need to do some work on our marketing side.
The other thing is that there needs to be additional medical research to bring it to a pharmaceutical approval level. Right now Omega-3 is a nutraceutical product, but if you do medical studies and go through the clinical trials, which are very expensive — they are a couple hundred million dollars to do in Canada — it proves there is a medical application.
Now, we all know how much the drugs cost in Canada. I am not saying we should jack up the price of seal oil to be very expensive, but there is a large amount of it so it can be provided at a more economical level. Stating on the label that it is a pharmaceutical applied product will give the industry a lot of viability.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Lewis, for your presentation. This has been a great opportunity to hear from the people involved in the industry.
We now welcome Mr. O'Boyle. Sir, the floor is yours.
Robert O'Boyle, Scientist, as an individual: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am going to talk to you this afternoon about a paper my colleague and I wrote. I am a scientist. I used to work for Fisheries and Oceans Canada at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, but I have been retired for the last five years. My colleague Mike Sinclair is not here. He is actually in the air right now, probably somewhere over the Laurentian Channel trying to get back. His flight was delayed by three hours. I do not think he is going to show up.
Notwithstanding that, this afternoon I will give you a précis of the paper that Mr. Sinclair and I wrote on the impacts of the seal population or the seal herds on the cod population on the Scotian Shelf. I might add that I believe that paper was circulated to the committee. I will be referring to some figures in the paper, but I am not going to get into the science details. I am just going to give you the big picture.
The causes of the lack of recovery of the Atlantic cod stocks on the East Coast of Canada have been controversial. There are a lot of complex geographic and temporal patterns, with varying timing in the declines amongst the various cod stocks. Our paper, though, focuses on one particular stock on the eastern Scotian Shelf in an area called 4VsW and the impact of the grey seals on that population.
Now that population of 4VsW cod, as did the Newfoundland stocks, collapsed in the early 1990s and there has been no fishery since then. In fact, a moratorium was put on the Scotian Shelf fishery in September 1993. If you look at figure 2 in the paper, though, you will see that our surveys, the July survey specifically, shows that in fact there has been continued high mortality on that population since then, up until the most recent time. That suggests that the natural mortality has been high along all ages, just not small cod.
At the same time, the grey seal population, the Sable Island herd, has grown from about 3,000 individuals in 1960 to about 300,000 individuals in 2010; so over four decades it has doubled about every seven years.
In our paper, we considered five aspects. We considered the grey seal abundance trends on the Sable, eastern shore and the gulf herds. We looked at the total food consumption of each herd and how much tonnage they actually ate. We looked at density dependent processes between cod and seals. We then looked at cod age selectivity, which is the consumption pattern by seals across the age of cod. Putting all of those together, we came up with cod populations trends between 1970 to 2010, and we included in that, obviously, natural mortality due to seals.
I emphasize that the paper is not about cull scenarios. We did not get into that. What we were trying to do in our paper is to focus in on the uncertainties on cod/seal interaction. Given those uncertainties, what can someone say about the impact of the seal on the cod population? That is the big picture.
I am going to step through each one of the various elements of our paper, pointing out some of the major uncertainties and what we concluded.
The first one is the grey seal population trends, which in the paper is summarized in figure 4. There is a lot in the paper on population dynamics. If you are so inclined, I will give you my business card and we can talk later. The dynamics are based on a consensus of a national DFO workshop held in October 2010. There is generally no disagreement. Other scientists at that workshop produced comparable patterns. I made sure that whatever I had in my paper generally tried to follow those patterns, so there was pretty good agreement on that.
The upshot of all this is that three herds that are involved in the feeding on the Scotian Shelf. There is a Sable herd based on Sable Island; there is a Gulf of St. Lawrence herd based in the Gulf of St. Lawrence; and along the shore of Nova Scotia there is what we call the eastern Nova Scotian herd. As a collection, these populations basically live on the eastern part of the Scotian Shelf.
We modelled the dynamics of each one of those herds. The upshot is that the Sable estimates are relatively precise, while those of the other two herds are less so. It looks like the Sable population is reaching something of a plateau, but the other two are still increasing. There is some uncertainty of whether or not that Sable herd is going to be plateauing. It looks like it, but on the other hand when you add a new pup survey point, it might indicate that the population is still increasing.
The Sable herd in 2010, which was two years ago now, had about 317,000 individuals. The eastern shore herd was about 22,000, and the gulf herd was I think in the order of 75,000 individuals. When we looked at the impact of these three herds on the eastern Scotian Shelf population, it is mostly due to the Sable Island herd. There are components of the other populations involved, but it is mostly the Sable Island herd.
In our paper we mention that there is this issue of whether or not the population is increasing. We are saying it is, but as I said, if you add more data, it might not be. It is certainly not decreasing. In our paper we emphasize that given the uncertainties it would be very unwise to make projections beyond 2009. In other words, we are not sure what is going to happen in the future, but we are just trying to say that this is what it has been in the past.
The next element is how much food these seal populations are eating. Based on the peer-reviewed literature, we came up with the estimates. We looked at estimates of the energy requirement of each seal. The way we did it is that a seal needs an amount of energy per day to live. That is called the energy requirement of that seal. We also need to consider the energy density of a food item that it eats. You have how much energy per gram is in the food and how many kilojoules of energy are required. Looking at its food profile, you know the kilojoules per gram of food it characteristically eats. Dividing one by the other gives you the number of grams that a seal needs to eat per day. You then multiply that figure by the number of seals that are in a particular area from our population model, and that gives you the total consumption of food by that seal. That is how we did it. Needless to say there are a lot of details. The devil is in the detail, but that is the general picture of how it is done.
A big part of that detail is you need to distribute the seal populations around the Atlantic coast. Information from scientists both in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the BIO provided us with a picture by area and by quarter of the year for the three herds. That information is in table 1. With the seal population and trajectories that I gave you earlier, we took that profile, that distribution, and spread those three populations across Atlantic Canada. Based on that view, we asked how much of the total consumption of food comes from the eastern Scotian Shelf area for the three herds.
In general, in 2010, interestingly enough, the total consumption of the Sable eastern shore herd on the eastern Scotian Shelf was in the order of 350,000 tonnes of food. The gulf herd was only about 17,000 tonnes of consumption on the eastern Scotian Shelf. Overall, we had something in the order of 360,000 tonnes of food being consumed by the three herds on the eastern Scotian Shelf in 2010. We do have the time series on that, which is in the paper.
In general, for your background, for easy recollection, a seal eats between one and a half to two tonnes a year of fish, not just cod.
Figure 5 gives the total annual fish consumption, which has grown from about 20,000 tonnes in the 1970s to in excess of the 350,000 tonnes that we have right now. That gives you a general idea of the overall perspective of food consumption.
When we compared these numbers to other numbers of other scientists in Atlantic Canada, they generally tend to be in the same ballpark, so there does not seem to be a great deal of debate on those numbers.
The next bit gets into the controversial part. This is the density dependence of cod consumption by seals. We undertook a literature review based on the Northeast Atlantic and Northwest Atlantic grey seal cod population feeding studies. That is in table 2 of our report. Generally, the consumption of cod in the diet of seals is based on three methods. Two of them are the scat and the stomach analyses. In the case of scat, of course, you look at the feces from the seals on a beach or wherever you can get it, and you look at the hard parts that are found. For instance, most of the time, the hard parts are generally fish ear bones. You probably know that fish have ear bones. Atlases have been developed so that we can tell that this fish bone is from a cod, this one is from a herring and this one is from a capelin. The size of the ear bone gives you an idea of how big the fish are. If you can find these ear bones in the scat sample, you can generally characterize the composition and the size composition.
Stomach analysis, of course, is invasive. You have to take it from the stomach of a seal. The seal has to be killed to do this, but in general you are looking for hard parts in the seal's stomach.
Fatty acid analysis was developed by Sarah Iverson at Dalhousie University. It takes a blubber sample and looks at the fatty acid composition. What the lab there has done is looked at feeding the seals certain amounts of food and said, "This fatty acid is characteristic of this seal consumption of a certain fish."
Those are the three methods that are being used. There are biases on all three methods. For instance, the scat and stomach analyses are based on hard parts, so it might be said by some of the fishermen at these hearings that if the seal does not eat the head bone, which has the ear otolith, you are not going to see that ear otolith in the stomach. That is the first thing.
The other thing about the scat and stomach analysis is that it is like 24-hour food. If you look at anybody's stomach, it is generally your short-term diet. In the case of the Sable Island samples, it would be probably within the proximity of Sable Island itself.
Now the fatty acid signature is not without controversy. In our paper we mention some of that controversy. It depends on the complex metabolic processes that are in the seal body. The bottom line is that seal scat and stomach analyses suggest that cod typically make about 10 to 15 per cent by weight of a seal's diet, whereas the fatty acid analysis suggests a much lower percentage. It is like 1 to 2 per cent.
There is some work quoted in our paper to suggest that the scat and stomach analyses do a reasonably good job characterizing the seal diet, and that is our perspective too. We have reservations about the fatty acid analysis. I guide the committee to the observations we make in the paper about the controversy over fatty acid analysis.
While cod are important to the seal diet over a range of cod abundance, it is expected that as the cod abundance declines, at some level seals are not going to be interested in cod anymore. At figure 6 of the paper, we develop a predator-to-prey model to describe seal/cod dynamics. We had the best information on the percentage of cod in a seal's diet for the 1991 to 1998 period. For that period, we had scat stomach analysis and we had fatty acid analysis as well. Using our predator-to-prey model, we made different assumptions on the percentage of cod in a seal's diet in order to calibrate our model. The details are in the paper, and I want to come back to that.
The next item is the age/size selection of cod by seals. A lot of previous work suggested that basically seals eat small cod, which is in Table 3. However, we have concerns here. Are they eating what is there? Please see figure 7 for some survey information on that. In other words, if the seals on Sable Island are having a 24-hour diet around Sable, that is where small cod are located, so it is not unexpected to see small cod in a seal's diet. That is where they are. If they are not eating the fish heads where the ear bones are, as fishermen contest, then you are not going to see those small animals as well.
There have been observations in other areas on the Atlantic coast and other areas of the Northeast Atlantic and the base Atlantic where, yes, seals do eat larger cod. It is not surprising to us, necessarily, that the seals could be eating proportional to what fish are in the ocean. They are not necessarily selecting the small fish; they are eating proportional. If big fish swim by them, they are not going to avoid them. They are going to eat some of those, and if small fish go by, they eat some of those.
We made two assumptions in our model. We said one would be a proportional feeding and the other one would be more of a focus on the small animals, as has been the reigning hypothesis up until now.
We put together the seal herd with the total tonnage consumed. We used a predator-to-prey model and assumed an age selectivity. We put it in an analysis as presented in the paper for the 1970 and 2010 period. We looked at six scenarios, three of which related to diet. This is the 3.5 per cent, the 7 per cent and 12 per cent of cod in a seal diet. There were also two age selectivity patterns — proportional and focused.
Our general finding was that there was a lot of uncertainty. Other scientists have mentioned this as well. Although we have a fair bit of information on these interactions, certainly on the grey seal population, there are many uncertainties with the cod population. There has been no fishery since 1993, so we do not have any fishing information. This is all survey information we have to deal with.
Our study generally supported proportional feeding. We generally got the best fit of our model to the data with what I call a proportional feeding model. In other words, they eat small ones when there are lots of small ones there and large ones when the large ones are there. As well, when we assumed proportional feeding, we got a higher percentage of cod in the diet generally fitting the data better.
All the scenarios indicated, no matter the scenario, that increasing per cent of the total natural mortality due to seals since 2002, and that is in figure 14, the rate of increase of this per cent of the total mortality depended on what you considered would be the per cent of cod in a diet. All scenarios suggested that the current total mortality was almost totally due to seals.
I might add that we did look at whether the high natural mortality is due to discarding. One could argue that there are lots of fisheries out there, so maybe it is just that cod are being discarded. In our model we were able to estimate the tonnage that was lost due to natural mortality from 1993 to 2004. If you just looked at how much tonnage was due to natural mortality in 1993, it was 63,000 tonnes. That declined down to about 6,000 tonnes in 2004.
A recent study of the average annual cod discards in the eastern Nova Scotia area for the 2002 to 2005 period was in the order of less than 5 tonnes. There are certainly very few groundfish fisheries and the snow crab fishery and some of the other fisheries in the area do not get a lot of cod, so it is not going to be discarded.
I will conclude with some overall observations, and then we can get into some of the details. I am just going to walk through the uncertainties in our study.
With respect to seal herd dynamics, I did mention a number of times that in our paper we did have the Sable herd coming to a plateau, but it is not certain whether or not it is plateauing. In fact, my colleague Mike Sinclair did a historical search to see how big this Sable Island herd could be. If you ask questions, I would automatically refer to him. Notwithstanding that, there are observations from the period of the 1600s to the 1800s. We contest from his analysis that the current herd is likely bigger than anything seen since the 1800s. Our main contention in that regard is if you had a herd the size it is now in the previous history, one would think that some of the early settlers and the expeditions that went to Sable Island would have commented on the size, basically saying that animals were everywhere. There was something of that in some of those reports, but some of the early ones had nothing of that nature. Anyway, it still is a contentious point.
In relation to total consumption, I think the big thing there is that our picture of the seasonal and the spatial distribution of the herds is a static one based on studies that were done more recently when the herds are high and not done when the herds were smaller back in the 1970s. Our contention is that when you had a smaller herd, they might not have moved around as much. If they do not move around as much, then the amount of consumption that we have on the eastern Scotian Shelf might in fact be underestimated.
With respect to the percentage of cod in a seal's diet, the issue is the scat/stomach versus fatty acid analyses. The literature suggests that the 10 to 15 per cent values are more common than the lower percentages that you see in the fatty acid analysis. That is still an issue that is to be debated.
In terms of the age/size composition in the seal diet, our results suggest proportional feeding, not focusing on the small cod.
Finally, we are contesting that the high natural moralities observed since the late 1990s is primarily due to seals.
Now, there is a big caveat in our paper. When we updated the paper prior to the 2010 workshop, it was noted that there was an increase in cod on the Scotian Shelf in the summer bottom trawl survey. That is in figure 9 of that document. Do you see that little upturn at the end there? Our model had a great deal of difficulty fitting that trend. We are very open in the paper that we had a great deal of difficulty fitting that trend. A couple of things could be going on here. Number one, it may be too early to judge whether or not that increase is real. There has been a paper published quite recently in Nature Magazine on the recovery of the cod population on the Scotian Shelf. It is my opinion that that is a little premature. We do need to get more information. There could be some survey variability; we are not sure. Mike and I have talked about this. If it is real, then our model is wrong and there needs to be some adjustment to the model. However, it does not necessarily mean that the seals are not having an impact. There still may be some interactions going on. In fact maybe the seal population has some kind of a lag response going on; we do not know. I just wanted to point out that shortly before we published the paper, that trend was very much out there and we are very open about it.
You might want to ask about that our motivation for publishing the paper. We felt that we really wanted to walk through all the various uncertainties that are known and have been studied before in this population: the seal herds, the total consumption, the predator-to-prey model, the age/size composition information. We wanted to look at each one of those elements. We felt that existing models took too narrow an interpretation of some of those elements. We wondered what would happen if you broaden the view a little bit. Can seals be a problem in the lack of recovery of the cod population? It is our contention, based on the analysis we have here, is that yes, it could be. However, it is a scientific piece and we wanted to get it out in the scientific literature so it could be debated in the scientific literature.
The Chair: Due to time constraints, senators, I have to keep you to one question each. Due to the amount of information the doctor has provided, I wanted to give him the opportunity to explain it as best he could.
If there are any questions beyond what we can ask here today, we can forward the questions to you and maybe get a written answer if any of the members would want to do that. I am asking the members to keep their questions to one and then hopefully we can get our answers as directly as possible.
Senator Hubley: Thank you very much for your presentation. I am going back to figure 9, if I might. When we look at the spike between 2005 and 2010, we see the increase but we also see it coming down again. What does that tell us?
Mr. O'Boyle: In the most recent period?
Senator Hubley: Yes.
Mr. O'Boyle: I think since that last point on there, it has come down yet again. These surveys have what we call a year effect due to variability in sampling. There is a central trend, but then you have variability around it, which is our contention here. We can get a lot of variability in this particular survey.
You can see a big spike back in 1972-73. That is not real. I mean, the population of cod did not suddenly increase and come down again. That is a survey effect. That is our concern about whether or not this is real.
Senator Harb: In 4.2 you used the Mohn and Bowen formula from 1996. Mr. Mohn was before us this morning and he showed us a chart based on 2000 something and 2010 showing mortality on the decrease despite the increase in the seal herd.
You have heard of the parabolic formula which is y=x-h2+k. I guess you have seen this parabolic formula before.
Mr. O'Boyle: I am looking at a distance here. Is that just a production curve?
Senator Harb: No. I am just drawing this for you to show the similarity between what you have here over the past 50 years, showing that in essence if we were to use scientific logic, which you have been using throughout your presentation, which I much appreciated, then this, based on what Mr. Mohn has told us today, the fact that he has seen for a period of over five years a trend whereby despite the increase of the number of seals there has been a decrease in the morality of cod. If that is the case, then I submit to you that your formula makes perfect sense. From here on, this point here would be the vertex, which is the highest number of seals we are going to see. What we are going to see from here on, in fact, is the exact mirror to what you have for the past 50 years, a decline. If I was a scientist — and I am not, I am an engineer — I would say it would be wise for the government to sit and wait for the next three to five years to find out whether this parabolic representation makes a lot of sense because from the trend Mr. Mohn has told us, it seems like we are stabilizing now and maybe we are on the way down.
Mr. O'Boyle: When you were talking about coming down, is that in relation to the seal herd?
Senator Harb: Yes.
Mr. O'Boyle: I do not know what you are talking about.
Senator Harb: The figures from Mr. Mohn indicate that for the past few years there has been, despite the correlation between the increase of the number of seals, there has been less mortality of the cod.
Mr. O'Boyle: Yes, and that is the point that I raise. That reduction in the mortality of cod has a great deal to do with whether or not that cod increase in the most recent time period is real. If the population of cod has not been increasing like it is, then you would see the natural mortality maintaining itself. That is the issue here.
Senator Harb: Scientists who appeared before us this morning told us that in the 1900s in fact the herd number was about 900,000.
Mr. O'Boyle: I submit that it is very important for the committee to get the background to those numbers. We could not find background; we have actually gone after it. We were told by somebody that Farley Mowat came up with numbers in that order. We went looking for those numbers and we could not find them. It is important.
The Chair: That is very important information. Thank you, doctor, for your presentation. If we have any follow-up questions, I am sure the senators will be in touch.
I would like to welcome our next guest. Our process here is to give you an opportunity to tell us who you are, have some opening remarks and then open the floor up to questions from senators. The floor is yours.
John Paul, Executive Director, Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat: Welcome to Jipugtug, which is Halifax in Mi'kmaq territory today. My name is John Paul. I am from the Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton. I am here today on behalf of our organization which represents 38 First Nations from all Atlantic Canada, the Gaspé Peninsula and down into Maine. I am here today to talk about grey seal predation. We just wanted an opportunity to share our views in terms of the discussions we have had with some of our communities about the issue.
Our organization is a policy research and advocacy organization that works for the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy and Innu First Nations who are members of our organization. It covers a population of about 36,000. When the Qalipu First Nation in Newfoundland finalizes its registration process and we get them to join, we will be up to 70,000. We include the four Atlantic provinces, Quebec, and we also include the Passamaquoddy community that straddles the border in St. Andrews and into the State of Maine. They also are part of our organization. Our mandate is to develop policy alternatives for matters affecting our First Nations Communities in this region.
In each of the provinces we also have groups that are dealing with aboriginal rights, title treaty and land claims negotiations which are with the various governments and under the leadership of our provincial organizations which are in Nova Scotia as Kwilmu'kw Maw-Klusuaqn which is short for "coming to consensus." That is the quick translation. In New Brunswick we have the group called the Assembly of New Brunswick Chiefs and in P.E.I. we have the Mi'kmaq Confederacy and in the Gaspé Peninsula there are three bands which work together, called the Mi'gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat. It works for the communities in the Gaspé Peninsula. They speak for member communities in terms of areas relating primarily to the self-government negotiation tables that are going on, as well as treaty implementation issues in each of the provinces.
I just want to start by drawing lessons from one of our Mi'kmaq elders from one of our communities in Cape Breton, a widely respected elder, Dr. Albert Marshall from Eskasoni. He has for a long time been a spokesman on the practice of Aboriginal traditional knowledge. He always talks about looking at issues in terms of the environment and resource management from a perspective of "two-eyed seeing." One is based on the practical scientific approach which exists that you heard today. The other perspective is looking at it through an indigenous lens and looking at it from that perspective which is quite different and using the formulas and using the methodologies that exist. I want to emphasize that you have to look at things with those two perspectives to really understand how we fit in to the world view.
We realize that the Senate committee has been looking into these issues around seals for many years, and we also are fully aware of the facts. We are not going to repeat that here. However, we cannot think of an example where this concept of "two-eyed seeing" is more relevant and essential than the controversy over issues about grey seal herd population program.
During the course of your hearings you have heard from the Canadian Sealers Association, International Fund of Animal Welfare and so on. Their polarized views are strongly entrenched and well known. In a similar vein, Dr. Marshall teaches us that, as humans, we possess responsibilities while other species possess rights. Our community is seeing firsthand the expansion of the grey seal rookeries and the devastation over our fish stocks. It is in this context our First Nations struggle to restore the ecological balance and a sustainable marine aquatic environment that is for everybody.
As you know, in 1999 the government, after many years, was forced by the Supreme Court of Canada Marshall decision to finally recognize the ancient treaty rights of all of our communities in Atlantic Canada to enter the fishery and secure a "moderate" livelihood. Since then, the communities have had interim agreements that have been established between the Crown and First Nations and started into the fishery business to a great extent with significant growth.
About three years ago now, our organization did a study and looked at the 10 years since the Marshall decision. We looked at what happened with First Nations and their participation in the overall fishery. Our report demonstrated that these arrangements saw the transfer of over 640 licences from non-native harvesters. The licences generated over $35 million for our communities and created 1,000 new jobs in our communities. As a result, many of our communities have established a unique communal commercial fishery with independent governance, administration, training, mentoring, gear, and vessel maintenance and co-management programs. By any measurement, what our communities have done is remarkable over this short period of time.
However, there have been many challenges since the Marshall decision and still more remain. We are extremely concerned that the government has delayed renewal of its support programs. We are waiting for word today, like everybody else, on the federal budget that is coming. We are under the impression they may or may not go ahead or be terminated or temporally halted. We await word today like everybody else. However, one thing is for sure: Without continued development in support of our community, the underlying objective of all parties to have an orderly fishery in Atlantic Canada will be severely challenged. The grey seal issue raises similar concern.
Mr. Chairman, the committee is well aware of the DFO science advisory report, Impacts of Grey Seals on Fish Populations in Eastern Canada. The report demonstrated the recovery from the near extirpation of grey seals from Eastern Canada in the 1950s to as many as 400,000 animals today. High levels of adult mortality were identified in several stocks, most notably in terms of cod in the southern gulf, and it is recommended that a strictly managed seal control program be developed and implemented.
There is no doubt that overfishing has been a factor in the past, but seal predation is a leading detriment to recovery. For First Nations, this issue is especially urgent. The fisheries opportunity envisioned by the Marshall decision is threatened. Many of the fisheries for which licences were allocated simply no longer are sufficiently viable to pursue a moderate livelihood. These include various other things like groundfish, including cod, small pelagic stocks like bluefin tuna and appear, we feel, to be threatening some of the lobster and snow crab stocks. It is our view that it has also hindered recovery of numerous other species, most notably the many Atlantic salmon stocks.
We are aware of the comments presented to you by widely respected marine biologist Dr. David Lavigne. He believes that "the body of scientific evidence does not support or justify a decision to cull tens of thousands of grey seals off the East Coast of Canada." Alternatively, the FRCC report, Towards Recovered and Sustainable Groundfish Fisheries in Atlantic Canada, validated the DFO science advisory report. It recommended testing the hypothesis that predation by grey seals is a major factor preventing recovery of groundfish stocks in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
First Nation communities in Atlantic Canada are extremely supportive of the DFO and the FRCC recommendations. Our community has a long and proud tradition of humane hunting practices for everything that we harvest. Participation in a seal cull would be widely accepted within various communities. However, to participate at any point we still face several challenges.
As reported by earlier witnesses — the Canadian Sealers Association in November 2011— hopes for a market to sustain a controlled hunt are hampered by red tape from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, i.e., by requirements for pre-mortem. This seemingly minor issue is taking an inordinate amount of time to resolve and requires immediate political direction.
Buyers should be working with our communities now to ensure that efficient business plans are in place. Waiting until after administrative issues are resolved will cause needless delay and hinder the success of any cull.
Training and mentoring programs must be developed and accelerated for our communities. We do have a handful of trained hunters that are doing seals today, but we will require a great many more. I think we have such a large population in our communities that any opportunity would be quite helpful and beneficial to the communities.
Our First Nations also require a focused communication strategy to ensure key messages are circulated before sophisticated and highly funded opposition groups undermine this and other initiatives as has so often happened in the past.
During the interim, a bounty program is required. This will encourage selective culls and provide anecdotal information to begin to measure the hypothesis over the impact of seal predation.
Dr. Marshall teaches us that Aboriginal traditional knowledge should always be present so that our lives are meaningful. By applying the principle of "two-eyed seeing," we would not become stuck in the past.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, the APC believes that active participation among Canada's First Nations can bring an added new dimension to the debate over the grey seals.
Senator Hubley: Welcome to Mr. Paul and thank you very much for your presentation. It is nice to have the voice of the First Nations here.
My question will be short. During your discussions or within your economic development plans, have you ever considered the grey seal from an economic development standpoint? I think you mentioned a cull. Looking at the seal as a resource might be beneficial to your communities.
Mr. Paul: I agree. It really does come down to trying to look at it from that perspective of science and how to create that corrective balance with the ecosystems out there for the next 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years. I think that any approach that is carried out needs to include that.
In terms of economic development, a number of our communities have looked at it and are looking at it as an active possibility because that one of the things that we would look at is how to do it in a way that is sustainable for the next 100 years. We want to look at it from that perspective to ensure that whatever you are doing is consistent with our own traditional approach to deal with the harvest of any animal and how we deal with it in our own mindset in terms of doing it in a way that is fully sustainable for the long term. We have demonstrated the growth of our capacity in the last decade, or so, and I think that seals are just another part of things that fishers in our communities do. A lot of things are cyclical in nature in our communities. One of our community fishermen moves from season to season, year over year. He goes from the moose harvest, to tuna, to lobster, and he does this year round. He has been involved in Newfoundland over the last couple of years. When I spoke to him about the seal harvest, he knows that it would just be added to the menu of skills that he has practised over the years. It would just be another add-on in terms of his work to make a living for his family and his community.
Senator Harb: You hunt to eat to support your people and you do not waste any part of the seal. We have been sort of directly or indirectly been asked to support the notion of killing of 350,000 grey seals over the next five years, not to eat it but just to kill it, throw it in the ocean or dispose of it as a fertilizer or dog food. I suppose you have a moral challenge here as a chief. I suppose you would not support culling just for the sake of culling but rather culling if your people were to use every part of the seal.
Mr. Paul: I think that it would bring a different perspective in terms of what people are trying to do to maximize the utilization of the seal in terms of value beyond what it is today and look to the future in terms of playing out the total benefits of it as a resource. The big point is how do you make it a value to the world and to people? How do you ensure that whatever action you take builds that in for the long haul in terms of 10 or 20 years into the future or even 100 years into the future? In 100 years somebody will ask, "Why did they do something this year in terms of taking a specific type of action?" Somebody will judge and say, "Well, why did you do that?"
In terms of what we are doing and the example I used, he does participate as an economic opportunity, in terms of an employment opportunity. Our communities and our hunters and fishers look at one big issue, which is conservation. It is always a big issue to our communities and our people. The other issue is about long-term sustainability and trying to maximize, not just the value but the utilization of the resource for however long. Our view is the long-term view with a lot of this stuff. Looking at any resource in that regard is really trying to figure out how it fits into everything else, whether it fits into the economy, whether it fits into your moral values or where it fits in that whole spectrum.
From our perspective, we had various discussions about it. The fishery activity has created a sense of better opportunity and potential for the people in our communities. If this is another aspect that can help us build and strengthen those opportunities, then I am sure we would want to look at that as a real opportunity. We also want to look at this long-term sustainability plan in terms of what will happen in 10, 20, 30 years and build in all aspects of your regular science. As well, we want to look at the other perspective that we bring in terms of traditional ecological knowledge to try to figure out how that could play a role in terms of how you look forward with such a resource.
Senator Cochrane: Is Chief Joe from Conne River part of your organization?
Mr. Paul: Yes, he is.
Senator Cochrane: He is?
Mr. Paul: Yes.
Senator Cochrane: You are in good hands.
Mr. Paul: I agree.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Paul, for your presentation here today. It is another perspective to our ongoing discussions and I thank you for taking the time to be with us today.
I now want to take the opportunity to welcome our guests from the other island in Canada. Being from Newfoundland and Labrador I am always happy to see other Islanders. I tell my good friend Mike Duffy that there is a bridge connection now, but we are still surrounded by water. Anyway, I am delighted that you could make it. We realize it has been a long day and certainly we certainly appreciate you travelling to be here.
We are involved with an ongoing study into the grey seal herd here in Atlantic Canada and the effect it is having on not only the cod recovery but other species as well. We have had a great variety of witnesses today with a variety of opinions and we certainly look forward to hearing from you. Our process is that you have the opportunity to introduce yourselves, say a few words in opening remarks and then our senators, if they have any questions, will ask them. The floor is yours.
Ian MacPherson, Executive Director, Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association Ltd.: Thank you Mr. Chair. On behalf of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association, my name is Ian MacPherson. I am the executive director. One of the directors on the board of directors, Mr. Danny Arsenault, is with me also, and he will speak to a few issues after my presentation.
We appreciate the opportunity to give our Island perspective. There has been a lot of discussion on this issue and there are some differences in the situation on P.E.I. that I would like to share with you. I have passed out three documents. We are not going to go into those. I will give you a good general overview and just cover a few opening remarks here.
We represent 1,300 core fishers on P.E.I. Lobster, herring, mackerel and tuna are the main species that we harvest. We appreciate that the grey seal issue is sensitive and controversial, as islanders we like to think we can bring good input and solutions to the table.
Our view is that we have a system out of sync, whether we call it biomass or the overall system. We want to talk about putting that system back into place.
I will make the comment that sometimes we have to look back to move forward. Back in 1999, we did a study of the conflict between seals and fishing gear on P.E.I. At that time, fishers of the Island were concerned that with the increasing populations, and I will go into that document in a little more detail.
The other thing I have given you is a term of reference for what was called the Traditional Fisheries Mapping Update. I will go into a little more detail on that. A very interesting approach was taken to generate that document, and I think it is maybe something we could look at moving forward.
In our last document there are some pictures that we possessed. DFO was aware of them and suggested that we bring them to the committee. Mr. Arsenault will cover those in terms of the actual situations that are happening out there in the fishing community.
If I step back for a minute on the issue of conflicts between seals and fishing gear in October 1999, that document was put together by the Atlantic Veterinary College on P.E.I. The P.E.I. Department of Fisheries was involved and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Mark Hammill's name has been mentioned. He is a seal specialist for DFO. Mr. Hammill was an integral part of that study.
Close to 300 fishers were involved. The study covered a whole range of things and I will not go through all the details. Basically it was to try to get some numbers around the impact seals were causing at that time. In 1999, it was estimated that $6.3 million were being lost due to what we call gear conflicts. That is where the seal either takes the bait or damages the trap in some fashion. That represented 6.2 per cent of the landed value and about half of that was impact on the lobster fishery. We have not heard a lot about seals and lobsters today, but we were experiencing a lot more of that than I think in some of the other areas.
It was estimated that over 790 seals died that year due to the result of gear issues and gear conflicts. Even then, when the population was quite a bit less, there was still a lot of interaction happening out in the seas.
It was estimated from the study that the mean loss per fisher was in around almost 700 kilograms of lobster, so these were sizable numbers at that time. It was estimated that the seal population was consuming twice what was being harvested around P.E.I., so they were pretty big numbers. There was a lot of specific scientific detail, but I will not go into that.
One of the things that we are suggested was the concept of bait bags as a possible way to lower the predation on the bait, and I will cover that in a minute in terms of solutions that were studied.
Going last is a great opportunity to give an overview of what you have heard during the day. We had a lot of very similar points and Mr. Arsenault will speak to some of them.
We are seeing halibut becoming more and more of the seals' diet which not too many years ago did not seem to be the case. As mentioned, the seal tends to take not the whole fish, just parts of it. We are seeing increased incidents of seals eating lobsters and other species that have not been consumed in the past. We are hearing a real concern from our fishers that because of the overpopulation, the seals are eating a number of species that they traditionally do not touch, which is usually a sign of starvation. We do not like to see any animal go through that.
We are seeing more conflicts with the tuna harvesters. That is actually one of the pictures where the seal is on a tuna line.
One of the things that really concerns us, and it was alluded to earlier, is herring. Herring is noted as the queen of the sea because it really is the top of the bio food chain for many of the species that we harvest in the gulf. We are seeing spawning patterns change. Usually they move in a block when the fish settle and get ready to spawn. As Danny said, it is a very identifiable block on the depth sounder. They go right to the bottom and there is very little movement. That may be the situation for a few days and then they spawn and disperse. We are not seeing those blocks. We are seeing them form, but they are not staying in the same spot. They are not settling. We are seeing them moving and dispersing. It is the feeling of many fishers that it is related to the harassment by the seal population in terms of disturbing the herring when they are ready to spawn.
We are also starting to see the herring move to non-traditional breeding grounds. We are not suggesting that seals are the only problem with declining herring stocks, but this is a huge concern to everyone.
One of the recommendations out of the 1999 report was the use of bait bags. This was because a lot of the lobster traps we use on P.E.I. have a spike or something like that where the herring would be right on that. Of course, if a seal was nimble enough to get in, that would be pretty easy access. Quite a bit of research was done around this. Some fishers estimated up to three extra hours a day would be involved filling a bait bag versus baiting their traps in the traditional way. These are all things that fishers were willing to look at.
Another thing I heard today is that studies were done on sound deterrents called acoustic deterrent devices. Now some of them were bursts of sound that one would want in our marine habitat on an ongoing basis. They even tried killer whale vocalizations and things like that to try to keep the seals away from some of the harvesting areas. However, seal is very adaptable and were able to adapt to those sounds a little bit like a scarecrow.
We also tried were steel bait traps. Back in 1999 they were about $3.50 each. There was a cost factor to doing 300 traps.
Trap modifications was another thing that a number of the fishers tried, but it ended up being a Catch-22. If you added an extra slat or reduced the hole, then some of the larger lobsters were not able to get into the traps.
It is important to note that the fishers on P.E.I. were really trying to look at a number of areas to cohabitate with the seals because up until not too many years ago it has been a co-existence. Traditionally, if there was an area with a lot of seals, fishers would move, but with more seals, the areas that you can now move to are decreasing.
Bait costs have risen significantly because of the herring becoming in tighter supply. One of the things that has not hit Canada too much but is a real issue in the New England states right now is the issue of offshore bait being used in lobster and crab traps. I was at a seminar a year ago, and it is some pretty scary stuff. Fish species and fish heads are coming in from Vietnam and totally different climates and environments. Of course, we have concerns that we do not want to see pathogens introduced. Down there for a number of years they have been using things like leather and rawhide. When the herring go away and some of the other species that are traditionally used for bait, fishers start to look at other options. We really want to be mindful about going down that road.
One of the New England states is looking at bringing in legislation to address that because bait falls into a category where it is not a foodstuff and it is not regulated. It is something we have to be extremely mindful of.
There has been a discussion about culls. I believe it was alluded to earlier that culls have been necessary in regard to other species such as wolves, moose or deer in other Canadian provinces. Certainly, it is always a controversial decision. As a species, we have to step in and realize many times we are the cause of some of those things getting out of whack. I think that is the situation we have now.
There is a lot of discussion about grey seals versus harp seals. If you talk about seals in the international community, it seems that the negative impact is what gets looked at.
DFO's precautionary approach is coming in on many species. It is a management system that identifies parameters. For example, the biomass may fall below a certain point. It is very much like a stop light: green, yellow and red. There are a number of parameters, but they just deal with the harvesters' side. As was alluded to earlier, we really have to look at what this increasing population is doing to the ocean, period. Take out the human element and look at it in that regard.
One of the things I have not heard today is an interesting report a few years ago and concerning discussion around contraceptives for the population. With respect to reducing the population, but I do not know from a PR standpoint if that is something that can be looked at. I believe that the costs were between $1 million and $ 3 million. That kind of money is not just sitting around these days. However, if we measure it against the lost product out there, that could be a very good investment.
I said earlier that I would get back to knowledge mapping. What was really fascinating about that was that it was a three-year study, a joint effort between DFO and fishing organizations. What I found fascinating was that they were redrawing maps of traditional spawning grounds and seal populations, but it was a combination of science and the observations of fishermen. This is a personal cause of mine, but I cannot emphasize enough how fishermen are underutilized in terms of their knowledge and expertise. We tend to say that it is the fishermen's opinion or it is the scientists' opinion. In the room today there has been a lot of skepticism about how a cull will be measured. Well, 1,000 fishermen on the water is a pretty good scientific way to be out there providing data, and I would like the committee to seriously consider that.
I wanted to make one last point before I turn it over to Danny. We have to really look at the queen of the sea, the herring, and how this is all working. If we cannot protect our herring stocks, the lobster industry and our other industries will become a moot point.
I will now turn it over to the real fisherman.
Danny Arsenault, Director, Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association Ltd.: I want to speak to you today from a fisherman's perspective. Since I was big enough to get over the side of the boat, I have been in it. I bought my fleet when I was 18 years old and I have almost 40 years running it right now. I have been on the water for a long while and have seen a lot of things change over the years.
As of now, I am Chairman of the P.E.I. Groundfish Committee. We have been having a lot of these talks over the years. We go to Moncton each year to the RAPS. We talk about problems, and seals have been a big problem for years as far we are concerned and what we are seeing as fishermen. Like you said, we sometimes do not agree with the scientists say, and the scientists do not agree with us. However, at that end of the day, I think in the last few years science has turned a lot to listen to what fishermen were saying and started working on those presumptions. I think a lot of it is starting to show that maybe, for a good bit of it, we were right.
When you think about it, when they do all these assessments, if they are doing science in the lab on anything else, such as land, everything is there and it is great; you can do it. However, remember that when you are doing science on the water it is a different thing. There are a lot of things that you have to just presume. A lot of times that is what they are doing. It can certainly throw some of those models terribly off. For example, we heard today talk about cod that is coming back in an area, and then we heard fishermen saying that the fish in that area are going down. Well, if they make a tow on a certain day and get a catch of fish, it looks like there is a lot of fish. Come back tomorrow and there could be no fish. We do not put a whole lot of stock in some of that stuff, but what we do take stock in is what we see on the water.
In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, you all know that it has been 20 years now since we fished. We were taken off the water. I forget the numbers of the biomass of the spawning stock of cod was at that time, but today it is at least 90 per cent depleted since that time. We have not been on the water, so something is depleting the stock. A lot of people are blaming it all on grey seals. I disagree. I think they are big part of it, but there are other factors at play. One, for example, is the harp seal. They come down in the wintertime to plop down on the ice. I do not think anybody has ever seen one passing through the Strait of Belle Isle with a lunch can; he usually eats when he is down here. If you take our herring stocks, our cod stocks, everything moves offshore in the winter and then in the summer they move back into the shallows. Where is all this pupping taking place? It is happening right in the center of the gulf where the fish are located. This is why we are seeing all the worms.
The trouble started with worms in fish before the grey seals hit. They are part of the problem, but they are not all of it because some of it certainly has been coming from harp seals. We have been saying that for years. If you look at the numbers now, someone said there are 9 million harp seals. They are all part of the problem, too.
It seems like everybody here today is concentrating on whether a cull should take place. One gentleman was saying it should be a fishery. That would be great. If we could do that, it would be the way to go. However, we all know what has happened. The doors have been closed for markets. You cannot go there anymore. It is maybe unrealistic to think that we can. It brings us down to some very hard decisions that have to be made. In fishermen's eyes, there is only one big problem. Most of it is the grey seal and harp seals, both of them.
When I started fishing, I did not know what a grey seal was. I had never seen one in my life in our area.
I hear people saying that we have to study this more and doing this and that. Well, as you are studying we are gradually being taken out of the fishery because there is nothing left for us to fish. If we keep going there will be nothing for anybody. We tried this argument with DFO. The reason I think now we need a cull is because we waited too long to do something about it. Today it is probably the only answer that will work.
In the spring I would start fishing as soon as the ice was gone. We would fish groundfish and cod and hake. There was lots of it and we would fish. The only time we would stop was when the herring were running. We thought we could make more money fishing herring, we would switch to that. Then you could go fish mackerel when the mackerel were running. When that was over, you went back and you fished groundfish.
I fish lobsters in the fall season. We would move to the lobster season. Everything was great. You always had a fishery.
Today, in the spring season my boat is sitting on the land. I hire on as a mate with my brother-in-law to fish with him because I have nothing to do. In the summer there is still nothing. In the fall I fish lobsters. Then we usually go down to Nova Scotia to get hired on and fish there for a while. Now we have moved on. I have been out West all winter working, trying to supplement my income because we cannot do it fishing anymore, and it is getting very serious. It is coming down to a choice between whether it the seal, the fish or the fishermen. Something has to give here or no one is going to be around to fish.
We see the grey seal. We were talking about it earlier. A lot of people were saying that it seems like you are concentrating on a debate about whether it is a cause of cod being gone or whether they going to come back if we take the seals out. If we even go past there and think about it, what we are seeing in our other fisheries is that we have one day of ground fishery a year. We can go after halibut for one day. Do you see the pictures in this? That is what is happening with halibut. If you are hauling up a 60-pound or 70-pound fish and he is worth $6 a pound, that is $400 a fish, and you are watching seals tearing it off the hooks in front of you, ripping it off. They have pretty well destroyed the groundfish. That is gone and they have changed their diet to something else.
Ian talked about the herring fishery earlier. We see it today. There is a big ledge home where our herring always came to spawn. You go there to fish your herring in the fall when the boats commercially would be fishing. Also the boats that were fishing lobster were fishing their bait. He talked about a block of herring. I have seen it. We would go and the block of herring would come into a certain area. They would sit there for at least a week. They would just congregate on the bottom and not move. They would stay. You could go and get what bait you needed. Every day we would go and get our bait. When the block of herring comes in now, it will not go quite tight on the bottom. It will be around and all of a sudden it is gone again. In the next day or two it may come back and it may not. Maybe in a few more days it will come back in. It will move off and all of a sudden it will come in and spawn, and then it is gone. The only thing that changed is the seals are just like this in the water — the water is black with them. When that school settles, as soon as it hits, they chase them out of there and they cannot settle. It is ruining that fishery.
We have a tuna fishery in that area and it is the same thing. Fishermen set their hooks to fish tuna, and all of a sudden you have a seal on them. He has to go fight that for an hour, not sure of what it is until he finds out. Then he has to cut it clear and he loses all his line and his hooks and rigging, everything. It is expensive and they have to replace that. It is a problem in that fishery.
Mackerel fishermen will go drift their mackerel. Well, that has almost come to an end now, too. They set their nets in the evening. As soon as they get a few fish in their nets, up pop the seals and they start picking the mackerel out of the nets. They clean them out. There is nowhere you can go to hide from them anymore. On the reefs, on the shore, you cannot count the numbers anymore, especially when the herring season is on.
Somebody talked earlier about their diets. Yes, if you check in certain areas cod may only be a small percentage. Like someone else said earlier this morning, when you go to where the cod are and that is what they are feeding on then, you will find a lot bigger amount. When the herring is on, I would like to see them do tests then. They are totally full of herring because that is what they are there for. We watched them. When the herring leave, some of them will move away. They are probably the best fishermen in the water for sure, and they are certainly showing it. They are taking it over.
We know that the fishermen were probably part of the problem and brought it to where it is, but seals were, too. Nobody noticed it because at that time there was so much fish and there somebody else to blame. However, all of a sudden, when we were taken off the water, everyone assumed the stocks would come right back, but they certainly have not.
Ian talked about our lobster fishery and how we had to go from putting bait on the spike to bait bags. Well, I have seen in the last several years fishing some days we fish with seven traps on a string. It is nothing to haul five and six of them with the bait bags gone; they have taken those now, too. What is it costing us?
That is what we see and they are damaging the traps doing it. Those traps would not have been disturbed and we would have seen how many lobsters would be in them when you went to fish them instead of being empty. It has had a negative impact on everybody. It does not matter where we go; we are finding the same thing. Every fisherman can tell you the same in all areas. No area is exempt from them anymore. It is a major, major problem and something has to be done.
Like I said earlier, yes, if we had markets, then a fishery would certainly be the way to control it and to bring it to a controllable level. I think that avenue is gone. We do not have many choices, but something has to be done.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Certainly that is a different and very interesting perspective.
Senator Hubley: It is a real pleasure to have you with us here today and to get a perspective from Prince Edward Island. It is indicative of the severity of this situation that people and fishermen are willing to come some distance to share their knowledge with us.
I think you have made an excellent presentation. You have painted the picture completely for us in your remarks.
For my own interest, are the seals on Prince Edward Island part of another herd, colony or rookery? Do they stay on Prince Edward Island or do they come from another area?
Mr. Arsenault: I am not really sure about that myself.
Senator Hubley: I just wondered.
Mr. Arsenault: I cannot answer that. I am not sure.
Senator Hubley: It is almost like an invisible problem because I do not recall seeing seals when I grew up on P.E.I. and I do not recall hearing too much about them. Maybe they do not really know.
Today we had heard evidence that the seal will only eat a fish that has a certain amount of fatty acid. It is part of its diet; it needs to have that. They did not agree when we suggested that the lobsters have been impacted. You have shown us species that were not even talked about earlier today, but here is the evidence as well of really serious damage done to the fishing stock.
Mr. Arsenault: Until probably about seven or eight years ago, like I said, we always fished groundfish. We never, ever before that had a fish with this done to it.
Senator Hubley: No.
Mr. Arsenault: Never, just in the last few years when the grey seals showed up.
Senator Harb: Thank you very much for your presentation. I certainly sympathize with pretty well everything you have said on the fact that there are a lot less fish now than probably ever before. It is quite normal, as far as I am concerned, that when a situation like this happens and there are fewer fish and you have a lot of species in the ocean, somebody has to eat somebody else. It is quite natural that from time to time you will see a seal eating a herring or a herring eating a fish or a fish eating other fish. The issue we have to deal with is not only trying to find an approach to handle a problem now but to come up with a proposition for the long term, if you understand what I mean. It is not a Band-Aid solution; we have to look at a long-term solution.
Two witnesses who appeared before us today spoke about the need for a precautionary system, an eco-based fishery management system that the government has to implement. They complained about that, which is not the first time we heard it. We heard it in hearings back in Ottawa. It strikes me as you are trapped; you are on the receiving end.
As politicians, I suppose we have a responsibility to do our work, and from the look of it we have not been doing it. Successive governments, Conservative and Liberal, over and over again, have not been doing it, and now we have a problem in our hands.
Mr. MacPherson: Senator Harb, I would like to make one quick comment, and I would be remissive if I did not mention this. Part of the problem is that the fishermen go to meetings where there is meant to be a dialogue, but it is a very top-down process. It is all chaired by DFO people — the reports. If it a controversial issue, bang, it ends at 4:30 no matter what. Quite frankly, there are some pretty arrogant folks out there that talk down to these fishermen, and that is unacceptable in my eyes. That is the reality of it and it builds a lot of mistrust.
We have experts on both sides: experts on the water and the expert science. That is why I handed out the terms of reference. The knowledge mapping that was done back in 1999 or 1997 is a great model that can be re-implemented, and this would be a perfect case to assess it moving forward. DFO is getting hit really hard, and as fishing organizations and fishers we are concerned about that.
Senator Harb: The bottom line, and we all agree, is that if there were a lot of fish, we would not have to worry about it. There would be plenty of fish for everyone.
Senator MacDonald: Gentlemen, it has been a long day. I am of the opinion that there is not plenty of fish for everyone anymore. We have choices to make.
Mr. MacPherson, you mentioned the way that people are talked down to, and I agree with you. I think people with years of experience in the fishery are being talked down to by Ivy Tower elites. I have all the respect in the world for scientific research, but I also have a lot of respect for those who have 35 and 40 years on the water. They can see what is going on and this stuff has to be included in our assessment.
Mr. Arsenault, you made a very good point. It is a very sad situation we find ourselves in. There are people in this country and certain groups that go around smearing this country internationally, smearing fishermen and smearing the industry. They think that by smearing the need for reduction of some of these animals that it is going to prevent the need for it. However, even though they may cut off the market for pelts or other by-products of seals, we are to the point now that whether there is a market or not, something must be done. I think it is a tragedy to kill an animal and not use it, but some of these people are so selfish it seems they would assume we did that. If we are to the point where we have to do it, we will do what has to be done to restore this fishery.
As somebody who grew up in a fishing community, I have seen what has gone on in the cod fishery on the East Coast of Canada and the inability over two decades now to restore it. I think it is a disgrace that this renewable resource we are not able to do what is necessary to restore it. I think we have to.
I do not think for a second that the only issue is the grey seal, but I think it is an issue. I think there are enough of them out there that we can do some sort of an experimental cull to see what sort to effects it has in certain areas where the cod is trying to restore itself.
I want to thank you both very much for coming here today and taking the time to come over. I want you to know that we are listening.
Mr. Arsenault: I just want to say that I talked with the former Minister of Fisheries, the Honourable Gail Shea. Canadians probably think, "You are killing these poor animals for greed, for money, and you do not need to because you are making a living fishing." I say, why not tell the world the other side of the story? We never do. I have never heard anything on that side of it where we have to control these herds or we are going to have an upset in the ecosystem that is going to be costly to everyone. That side is never portrayed enough. I think it would make a lot more people sympathetic with us on the seal issue when they see that side of it. Anytime you hear talk about seals, it is always about the seal hunt; it is not about the other side of the issue, which is very important to Canada.
Senator Cochrane: .We have not had someone like Brigitte Bardot or somebody like that come forward and say, "Look, this is what is happening to our fish and we have to do something." This is one of the problems. We have people like that come and get all the attention and nobody says, "Get out of here, we do not need you."
Anyway, thank you very much. Trust me, you have our sympathy. In the meantime, no matter who you are talking to, whether it is DFO or anybody else, you express yourself because you have just as much right as anybody else.
The Chair: Thank you, Senator Cochrane. You shall have the last word.
I want to thank our presenters. It has been a very eventful day. A lot of information has come our way. We look forward to continuing our study and hopefully presenting a report by June to the minister to see where it goes from here.
I want to thank senators, the panel members, thank the audience and thank everybody involved with making sure that things went off very well today. I thank our clerk and our reliable researcher here next to me for gathering all this information. It has been pleasure.
(The committee adjourned.)