Seals are everywhere in the Atlantic; scientists and DFO are concerned

According to the report by the Atlantic Seal Science Working Group, commissioned by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the region has the highest concentration of gray seals in the world.

This population was nearly 30 times larger in 2016 than it was in the 1960s.

The number of seals nearly quadrupled between 2019 and 1970.

In contrast, Atlantic Canada bottom fish stocks are at their lowest on record.

The results of this report were released last week.

Former vice president of the Institute of Fisheries at Memorial University, Glenn Blackwood, co-authored the report by the Atlantic Seal Science Task Force commissioned by Fisheries and Oceans.

Photo: Radio-Canada

To the former vice president of the Fisheries Institute at Memorial University and member of the Fisheries and Oceans research team, Glenn BlackwoodMore studies on this seal overpopulation are needed.

He reminds us that these animals are the natural predators of these fish.

The question is what impact this has on fish stocks. […] These seal populations experienced very high rates of fish consumption. »

a quote from Glenn Blackwood, former vice president of the Fisheries Institute at Memorial University

The scientist explains that research should focus on the eating habits of these animals.

We need to see this sampling done on the coast and offshore, where these seals are present year-round, and in the north as they migrate to these locations.need Glenn Blackwood.

Director of Marine Mammal Science for Fisheries and Oceans, Simon Nadeau explains that the most traditional technique to learn about seals’ eating habits is to collect samples of their food from their stomachs.

There are also other techniques we can use, like attaching cameras to seals, and seeing what they’re eating in real time. There are also tissue and DNA analyzes to find out which species are consumed more than others.adds the scientist.

A gray seal can eat between a ton and a ton and a half of fish a year. (files)

Photo: Radio-Canada

Explanations for the phenomenon

According to Glenn Blackwoodnatural fish mortality can be attributed to seals in some areas but not in others.

For Simon Nadeau, the decline in populations of certain fish species can also be attributed to other species.

It has been shown that two-thirds of cod mortality is due to other fish. There are many predators in this area. Seals eat fish, but other fish eat this cod too.he says.

The scientist also explains that the warming of the waters can also contribute to the migration of certain species and to the change in their eating habits.

With climate change, there are changes in the food chain, in the temperature of the water, and there are places where there is less oxygen for marine species. These changes will cause changes in populations, especially fish and, consequently, seals. »

a quote from Simon Nadeau, Director of Marine Mammal Science at Fisheries and Oceans

He cites the example of harp seals, which depend on the presence of ice to reproduce.

The reduction in the amount of ice in certain areas of the Atlantic forces this species to migrate to places where the waters are colder, towards the north of the region.

It also changes your diet. That’s why it’s important to see what’s going on.highlights Simon Nadeau.

A harp seal on a block of ice in the Magdalen Islands (files)

Photo: Gil Theriault

Climate change could also lead to a variation in the size of marine populations in some regions, he said.

If it takes a lot of energy to look for less and less abundant prey in a given location, it’s not worth it. So, at that moment, your diet will changehe adds.

Since seal hunting was regulated 20 years ago, gray and greenland seal populations have increased considerably, recalls Simon Nadeau.

During a press conference in Newfoundland on May 12, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray promised to follow the report’s recommendations and study this imbalance between these marine populations.

The report clearly indicates that there are elements on which we need to work more. […] Our government bases all decisions on the best science available.said the minister in a written statement sent to Radio-Canada.

Fisheries and Oceans plans to hold a seal summit this fall to find solutions to this problem.

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