A group made up of B.C. First Nations along with commercial and sport fishers wants to see a commercial seal hunt on the province’s West Coast.
The Pacific Balance Pinniped Society (PBPS) argues that the pinnipeds population — the marine mammal family that seals and sea lions belong to — has exploded on the coast, and are putting other species such as salmon and orcas at risk.
“There’s historic levels and beyond. There’s California sea lions that aren’t usually up here eating all of our fish and we need to do something,” said PBPS vice president Thomas Sewid.
Sewid and the PBPS believe the solution is a commercial hunt, and they plan to pitch the idea to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) on Thursday.
The group argues that a controlled harvest would have environmental benefits, while creating economic job opportunities for Indigenous people.
“The market is worldwide, starting right here in our hometown. We’ve had several restaurants calling us looking for supply already, just on Granville Island,” he said.
“Seal meat is a delicacy in a lot of the high-end restaurants in Eastern Canada.”
WATCH: First Nations and fishermen want seal hunt
A DFO estimate shows about 105,000 harbour seals on B.C.’s coast. That’s about 10 times the number recorded in the early 1970s.
But Lance Barrett-Lennard, director of the Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Conservation Association, said those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
He said seal populations on the West Coast dropped to those low figures because of a government-sponsored cull decades ago, and that levels have only recently returned to balance.
What’s more, he said culling seals could just as easily harm salmon and orca populations as helping them.
“The problem with culling seals in the hopes of saving southern resident killer whales, is that ecosystems are complicated. In this case, one of the biggest predators of juvenile salmon is the hake … seals eat a lot of them, they eat many more hake than they do salmon,” he said.
“So, I think the notion of having a seal hunt that’s gonna save the whales, make a bunch of jobs, create economic prosperity is a non-starter.”