The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

In an April 2020 press release, Karen Dwyer, cod research Scientist, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) stated that “survey indices suggest that recently observed stock growth (C2012-2016) may have stalled ecosystems conditions, indicating limited productivity and reduced food availability limiting the growth of cod.”

Dwyer said on CBC’s The Broadcast, that cod have turned to cannibalism (eating their own) because of a lack of food, mainly capelin. When asked by host Jane Adey whether seals have any effect on cod her answer was “we are doing more work, but I don’t think it has any effect on cod.”

The same week, Gary Stenson, a seal biologist with DFO stated that the latest harp seal count was 7.6 million. He also stated that the seals have not increased the last few years between 2012–2020 because of a lack of capelin.

He went on to say that “seals need capelin to build up their fat for pupping and if they don’t get the required amount of fat, they will abort their pups early (won’t breed).”

When asked if seals have any effect on the cod stocks his reply was, “we are still studying that.”

The reason for the explosion in the seal population is in the 1980s, it went from 2.2 million animals to the present number because the anti-sealing groups destroyed our markets, while the government of Canada stood by and did nothing.

Seal harvesters and cod fishermen know full-well what seals and cod eat — we all know that their favourite food is capelin. There are four predators that I know of, cod, seals, dogs and humans, who all have their favourite foods but will eat whatever is available when they are hungry.

I have cut open thousands of seals and tens of thousands of cod in my lifetime to find out about their diet because it gave me a better understanding of how the ecosystem worked. When food was available you knew where to find the fish.

Cod and seal scientists have no need to do more studies on cod and seal eating habits. There are many responsible people out there who can supply this valuable information free of cost.

If seals and cod are eating the same foods, the biggest predator, the seal, will outlive the cod, not only by eating the food of the cod, but the cod themselves and yes, seals do eat cod.

As long as we are fishing cod and other species and seals are allowed to grow, we will never get the cod or other fish species back to normal, which is so important to the rural economy of this province.

We have been battling this issue for 35 years, it’s time to act.

In a related note, on Wednesday, June 17, in the House of Assembly, Gerry Byrne, Minister of Fisheries, while discussing food security in this province by getting more people into farming, made the analogy, “give a man a fish, it will feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, it will feed him for a lifetime.”

At one time that was true, but not anymore. We came into Confederation with the greatest food basket of the world and passed it over to Ottawa to manage and we all know in this province how that turned out and it’s happening all over the world, all because we don’t treat our oceans with respect.

We have to stop managing it for the number of jobs it can provide and start managing it for the amount of food it can supply for a hungry world.


Wilfred Bartlett
Green Bay South N.L.

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