March 20, 2019 8:14 pm
Updated: March 21, 2019 12:38 am

Discovery of sea lion shot in head on B.C. island renews debate between conservationists, fishing industry

WATCH: A sea lion that was shot in the head recently washed ashore off Hornby Island, where anglers continue to fight hungry sea lions to get their catch of this year's herring. Linda Aylesworth reports.

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WARNING: This story contains disturbing images.

A B.C. conservation group has shared pictures that it says depict a sea lion found shot in the head, prompting another round of debate between animal rights groups and the local fishing industry as an annual fishery gets underway.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which shared the pictures, said the sea lion was found washed up on Hornby Island on Tuesday and laid the blame squarely on commercial fishery workers.

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“They’re not taking the health of this ecosystem seriously,” the society’s director of ship operations, Locky MacLean, said Wednesday. “This is an abusive fishery, and the fact that this sea lion washed up on shore leaves no doubt of the abuse of these [animals].”

READ MORE: ‘Disturbing’ video of ‘seal bomb’ sparks debate about conflict between fishers, B.C. sea lions

MacLean also appears in a video posted by the society on March 13 showing sea lions getting trapped in nets during the current commercial herring fishery taking place in the Strait of Georgia.

The society said this is just one of several abuses it has witnessed against sea lions on the water.

“We’ve witnessed sea lions getting pinned to the stern of a seiner [fishing boat] on purpose,” McLean said. “They [fishermen] are taking their frustrations with the lack of fish they catch on the sea lions, and that’s plain wrong.”

DISTURBING IMAGES: Pictures show a dead sea lion with a bullet wound in its head found washed ashore on Hornby Island.

The society has said the sea lions — among other marine species — depend on herring runs for food, and the organization is calling on Ottawa to place a moratorium on commercial roe herring fisheries in the Strait of Georgia to help stocks rebound.

Herring is also a food source for wild salmon, which is the main food source for the southern resident killer whale population.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has said the population is strong enough to support the current fishery underway off Hornby and Denman islands — something conservation groups dispute.

WATCH (Aired March 7): John Hua reports on the video showing bear bangers getting thrown into the ocean near sea lions

“There’s a very good reason these sea lions are congregating here: there are no fish anywhere else,” MacLean said. “There used to be plenty of herring spawning along the coast…and now the DFO says there are only five [fisheries], and the one along the Strait of Georgia is the only one that’s open.

“Who can blame these animals for coming here and wanting to get a meal?”

Meanwhile, some commercial fishermen are asking the federal government to approve a seal and sea lion cull to protect declining fish stocks, arguing pinniped numbers have spiked in recent years.

READ MORE: Harbour seal with gunshot wounds latest victim of a ‘PR war,’ says Vancouver Aquarium

Several scientists have disputed that claim, saying the mammals’ numbers have only rebounded to natural levels after they were depleted by human activity.

“[Sea lions] are protected under the Fisheries Act so going after them like this is illegal,” Pacific Wild executive director Ian McAllister said. “These are all illegal acts, and there should be someone from the federal government here overseeing this and ensuring this doesn’t occur.

“Instead, it’s the wild west and it’s right here in Vancouver’s backyard.”

The DFO said officers are investigating reports of the dead sea lion, adding that it’s illegal to disturb, harm or kill marine mammals.

WATCH (Aired Jan. 7): Linda Aylesworth reports on calls to cull the sea lion and seal populations

The pictures and videos come weeks after another video posted online showed a fisherman throwing an explosive device known as a “bear banger” into the water while several sea lions swam nearby.

That video prompted similar mixtures of support and outrage, including a warning from the DFO.

The fisherman responsible has said he never intended to harm any animals, only get them away from his boat.

—With files from Linda Aylesworth and the Canadian Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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