Commercial seal hunting proposal getting mixed reaction
A proposal to develop a commercial seal hunting industry on the West Coast is getting mixed reaction, with one side arguing it would help restore balance among marine life, while the other says culling the pinnipeds would do more harm than good.
The Pacific Balance Pinniped Society will meet with officials from the federal government Thursday to ask that coastal First Nations be given the right to kill seals and sea lions for commercial sale.
"This is a business plan to employ up to 4,000 people and bring the pinnipeds back into historical balance," said founder Ken Pearce.
That balance, the group says, is necessary.
According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the number of harbour seals in B.C.'s waters has skyrocketed from 10,000 in the 1970s to more than 100,000 nowadays.
"There's far too many pinnipeds eating too many salmon and sturgeon, steelhead and other fin fish like our lingcod," said Thomas Sewid, the society's vice-president, adding that "what we are trying to get everyone to understand is the balance is out."
The West Coast's declining Chinook salmon population is considered one of the main threats to the endangered southern resident killer whales, which depend almost entirely on the fish for their survival.
But a scientist at the University of British Columbia believes that a seal cull might save some salmon from the jaws of hungry pinnipeds, the proposal could have a ripple effect that does more harm than good to aquatic ecosystems in the long run.
"My concern with this proposal is the impacts it’s going to have on other parts of the ecosystem," Andrew Trites told CTV.
"Our transient killer whale population is entirely dependent on eating seals and sea lions in British Columbia… If you removed 50 per cent of them, you're going to cause, potentially, transient killer whales to starve."
In addition to its impact on the ecosystem, Trites said there's also the question of Canada's international reputation.
"Is the world going to stand by as we kill the seals so that people in San Francisco can eat them at the finest restaurants?" he said. "We're going to allow people to eat them before we allow our own killer whales to consume them."
Meanwhile, the First Nations involved in the proposal are being asked to provide samples to see if seal meat is safe to consume.
Ultimately, the decision is up to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Jonathan Wilkinson.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Breanna Karstens-Smith