WESTERN NORTH ATLANTIC STOCK:
- Includes seal populations off the eastern coast of Canada and the Northeastern United States
- Grey Seal populations in Canada (Sable Island, Novia Scotia, and Gulf of St. Lawrence) are generally increasing. The most recent three available stock assessments report these estimated total population sizes:
- 2011 – 348,900 individuals
- 2013 – 331,000 individuals
- 2014 – 505,000 individuals – A significant increase in total population size over the 2013 stock assessment comes after changes to the model were made to increase both reproductive rates and carrying capacity.
- The DFO sets a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for the yearly grey seal commercial harvest.
- 2007-2008 – TAC at 12,000 individuals; reported catch of 3218 individuals over the two years
- 2009-2010 – TAC jumps to 50,000 individuals; reported catch of only 321 individuals
- 2011-2012 – TAC of 60,000 individuals; reported catch of only 195 individual
- Grey Seals are being blamed for the collapse of the North Atlantic Cod fishery. A study published in Fisheries Research in 2012 stated that grey seals “could well be the primary source of the unaccounted for natural mortality of adult cod on the eastern Scotian Shelf and the lack of recovery since 1993.” However, the authors later admitted to uncertainties in their seemingly concrete conclusion that grey seals were responsible for the abject cod populations. They could not explain why cod populations in their studied region were showing signs of recovery, and their two-species modelling system simplified the extremely complex marine food web by only accounting for seal-cod interactions.
- Senator Mac Herb of Ontario proposed bill S-207 to end commercial seal hunting in Canada though it would maintain the rights of aboriginal people to continue their subsistence hunting. He lobbied for this bill due to the clear economic detriment of continuing a commercial seal hunt in an international market that does not support it and because he says the commercial seal hunt has negatively impacted Canada’s international reputation. This bill has not yet been passed.
- As with most political issues, the commercial seal hunt has become completely polarized with many politicians supporting the hunt and many going against it. It makes you wonder if Senator Herb’s bill was really just a way to secure future votes or if he truly wants the Canadian government to end sealing.
- Inuit groups have been lumped together with the commercial seal hunt to the great dismay of those people whose livelihoods depend on subsistence hunts. Terry Audla, Canada’s National Inuit Leader spoke out against the Anti-Sealing Campaign saying that the only people who make money off the seal hunt are the animal rights and anti-sealing groups that take charity donations. He argues that the people in these groups are disconnected from what it means to live off the land and are taking advantage of the situation while ridiculing the Inuits for their sustainable lifestyle.
Assessing Stocks – Coast of Maine, Nantucket-Vineyard Sound, Cape Cod, and Muskeget Island
- No current reliable stock estimates exist
- Grey seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. A couple of factors causing Grey Seal mortalities include fishing bycatch and illegal “nuisance” kills
Blame Game and Politics
- Groups like the Seal Abatement Coalition have formed to try and “manage” the grey seal populations in the Northeastern United States. They state that the increasing Grey Seal populations are posing a threat to the local fishermen and visitors of the Northeast coast. Besides being health and safety concerns, the large Grey Seal colonies are said to be attracting more sharks to the region. They advocate for culling of the seal populations if the seals are taken off of the MMPA.
EASTERN NORTH ATLANTIC STOCK:
Includes seal populations around Iceland, Great Britain, Denmark, Norway, Russia
- Reliable estimates for the total stock does not exist, but the largest colony around Great Britain is estimated to contain from 117,000-171,000 individuals. The Iceland population is estimated to have about 11,600 individuals.
- Grey Seals are protected under the recently passed Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 which makes it an “offense to kill or take any seal at any time. However, the act allows for organized culls to manage the population of Scotland, estimated by the Scottish Government to be 186,000 individuals.
Blame Game and Politics
- Fishing industry stakeholders used to blame seals for reduced fishing success. The last cull of Grey Seals occurred in 1983. The culls stopped due to a great public outcry over the killings.
Baltic Sea Stock
- Estimated to be about 22,000. This is a recovering population, driven to low size by bounty hunting and low fertility rates due to pollution. Overhunting of seals seems to be the largest problem in the region.
- There is little available information on the Baltic Sea Stock