Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Fisheries and Oceans
Issue 3 - Evidence - November 29, 2011
OTTAWA, Tuesday, November 29, 2011
The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans met this day at 18:12
p.m. to study the management of the grey seal population off Canada's East
Senator Fabian Manning (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Standing Senate
Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. My name is Fabian Manning. I am a senator
from Newfoundland and Labrador and chair of this committee.
Before I ask the witnesses to introduce themselves, I invite members of the
committee to introduce themselves first.
Senator Patterson: Thank you. I am Senator Dennis Patterson, and I
represent Nunavut in the Senate.
Senator Hubley: I am Senator Elizabeth Hubley from Prince Edward
Senator Raine: My name is Nancy Greene Raine, and I am a senator from
Senator Poirier: Rose-May Poirier, senator from New Brunswick.
The Chair: We will be joined shortly by Senator MacDonald from Nova
Scotia. He is en route.
The committee is continuing its study on the management of the grey seal
population off Canada's East Coast and is hearing from the Seal Hunters
Association of the Magdalen Islands. I want to thank members for their presence
and travelling to participate in this process in Ottawa.
The association was formed in the 1960s and represents several hundred
members who ply their trade on the ice floes around the islands. Three
representatives are here today to talk about the role of the association, as
well as its objectives and priorities. On behalf of the members of the
committee, I thank them for accepting to appear today. You have some opening
remarks, as I understand, and hopefully it will be followed by questions from
senators. We look forward to what you have to say.
Gil Thériault, Director, Seal Hunters Association of the Magdalen Islands:
My name is Gil Thériault, and I am Director of the Seal Hunters Association of
the Magdalen Islands.
Ghislain Cyr, Member, Seal Hunters Association of the Magdalen Islands:
My name is Ghislain Cyr. I am almost a groundfisherman on Magdalen Island and I
work a lot with grey seals. I have a lot of experience with harp seals in
Newfoundland from the 1980s to 2000. I worked a lot on the groundfish committee,
around the gulf and the province. I am busy with that.
Denis Longuépée, President, Seal Hunters Association of the Magdalen
Islands: I am Denis Longuépée, President of the Seal Hunters Association of
the Magdalen Islands. I am very pleased to be here today to talk with you. I
travelled with Senator Manning to Europe two years ago regarding the harp seal,
to try to explain how it is important to keep our market for the harp seal. We
are still working on it and the population is still increasing.
Today we are here to talk about the grey seal, which is another species. Mr.
Thériault will explain problems with the grey seal and we will be pleased to
answer questions. We also brought seal meat, which we will share with you later.
It is not grey seal; it is harp seal.
The Chair: I am certainly interested in this conversation. It is my
understanding that you have opening remarks and a PowerPoint presentation.
Mr. Thériault: Thank you for having us here this evening, Mr. Chair. I
am going to make my presentation in French since I am a little more comfortable
in that language than in English.
In the little PowerPoint presentation we have here, the question we start
with is: is the grey seal a species unto itself? I think that if the grey seal
was not a species unto itself, there would be no committee today. We would have
simple solutions for a simple problem.
Let us start by looking at the official growth tables for the grey seal
population. As we can see, in the 1960s we had a small population of 5,000
individuals that remained relatively low until the 1970s. It started to grow and
the curve is now rising more sharply. These days, we are talking about a
population bordering on virtually a half-million. I got the official figures
from MAPAQ, the Quebec ministère de l'Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de
We can see the cod catches in the Magdalen Islands during that time. Look at
the figures: 3,657 metric tonnes in 1991 for cod, and 16 in 2009; for ocean
perch, 11,000, and in 2009 the figure was 122; and the American plaice catch,
523 and 6 in 2009. We could have continued along those lines for a number of
species. This is all to show you that the two curves are not going at all in the
Next let us look at harp seal predation. Unfortunately, I did not find a
table for the grey seal, but that will give you an idea of consumption: the
commercial groundfish fishery in 2008 compared with animal predation.
When we are talking about the grey seal, the figures are conservative,
according to fishers or people who go out to sea regularly. We have the
scientists' figures, but often the scientists' figures are somewhat
conservative. That is what we have here.
In the entire inner St. Lawrence fishing fleet, nearly 50,000 tonnes of fish
and seafood were caught by the fleet in total. We also know that each harp seal
eats a tonne of food per individual and the population is about 10 million
individuals. We are talking about 10 million tonnes compared to 50,000 tonnes.
Someone might say, correctly, that the harp seal lives mainly in the north
and comes down the river. So obviously the 10 million tonnes of food it consumes
annually is not just in the gulf. However, for the grey seal, that population
stays in the gulf, always eats in the gulf and does not travel. It does not
migrate elsewhere. You are going to see some photographs in a moment and you
will see that the grey seal is much larger than the harp seal. If the harp seal
eats about a tonne of food a year, we may expect that a grey seal eats double
that. And if we are talking about a population like we have just seen, which is
in excess of 400,000 individuals, we are in fact talking about 800,000 tonnes of
fish and seafood that are eaten every year, compared to a fishing fleet that
catches 50,000 tonnes.
So you see the figures here? Saying there are no more fish and the cause is
overfishing; hold on a minute! Yes, there is human predation. There have been
mistakes and there are still mistakes. We have also seen bad management, but
when we look at the figure of 50,000 compared to 800,000, we see there is really
an animal population control problem, because we are doing a lot about human
predation on the fish stock, but very, very little about animal predation.
I called my next point ``The problem with the science.'' I do not want to
beat up on science. We need scientists and we have to work with them, but if we
look, with a bit of hindsight, and consider the 1970s again, in terms of the
harp seal, we have more statistics about them than about grey seals. The experts
at the time, in the 1970s, the leading lights in this field at the DFO, Mr.
Sergeant, Mr. Boulva and Mr. Montreuil, among other scientists, said that the
optimum — and the word is important — the optimum harp seal population, the
population being divided into several groups, was about 1.6 million. Today,
scientists tell us that we have nearly 10 million and when we ask for a quota of
400,000 individuals, we are told it is too high.
In the same box, the scientists, the people who worked with us, the deans,
said that 1.6 million was the optimum population, and beyond that it would be a
problem. We have got to 10 million, and you are saying that a 400,000 quota is
too high! There is no logic in this. And they bring us the N70 rule, which says
that the largest population of a species observed should not fall below 70 per
cent of that figure.
The problem with N-70 is that every time the population climbs, the N-70
climbs too. We would get to a population of 20 million and we should not go
below 14 million, when they said it was 1.6 million in the 1970s?
I think that science and numbers are very important at a certain point, but
we also have to apply common sense. In this case, we have dissonance.
I have another example involving science; it is important to listen to the
scientists, but we still have to discuss things with them to see how they get
their figures. When it comes to diet, we have spoken often with Mike Hamel; we
asked them how they managed to know how many cod, for example, are eaten by a
seal? They said that when you count the small otoliths found in the animal's
head, the little bones that are not digested by the system, that is, we can
determine how many cod were eaten in the last 24 hours.
When we talk to the fishers then, they tell us that unless a seal is
desperate, it will not eat the head, because that is not where the energy source
in a fish is found. And we have videos that prove that when a seal arrives in a
shoal of cod, all it does is eat the belly.
Mr. Cyr: In this part, like the videos in Newfoundland we have seen,
we often see that harp seals will dive deeper and bring the fish closer to shore
to do what we call a belly bite, which means eating only the abdomen and leaving
the rest of the fish at the bottom, while the grey seal will work more in
shallow water and if it catches a small fish, it will eat the whole thing, but
if the fish is of a certain length, it will leave the head, that is, the boney
So it is hard to determine what kind of fish it is, and particularly how old
it is. With the grey seal it is somewhat difficult to determine these kinds of
Mr. Thériault: But the point of all this is that the work scientists
do is essential, but when we get the figures, we still have to ask them about
how those figures were arrived at. Sometimes we have the impression that common
sense could help them quite a bit in their research.
Now, we are going to show you the gorgeous creature that is the grey seal. A
lot of people are familiar with the image of the famous whitecoat, which has not
been hunted since 1987, but which is still shown on the ``animal rights''
people's fundraising signs, and we also think it is very pretty. When we come to
the grey seal, this is the kind of creature we are looking at.
Mr. Cyr, whom you see there, is the little fellow standing on the right of
the seal, as we look at the image. This is on his boat. When we talk about a
slaughter of 70,000 seals, that is 70,000 times what you see there. This is
really something different from a quick slaughter of small mammals.
The photograph you are seeing now is from the sentinel catch.
Mr. Cyr: This photograph shows that in each region of the gulf, there
are scientific catches, sentinel catches, that are assigned to the associations
and to fishers to go and test the water and in particular to see the cod
population. There has been a sentinel catch since 1995, and this problem was
being reported even then. The data from the sentinel catches ordinarily relate
to the fish that are not eaten. There are a lot of complete data, but very often
we reported in our data, whether in Prince Edward Island or New Brunswick or the
Gaspé or Newfoundland, to a slightly lesser extent, or in Nova Scotia, that we
were losing a lot of fish because of the seals.
On those lines what you see is the sentinel catch, authorized catches with
observers on board, with 2,000 hooks in a day. That is the only result we get in
terms of the fish eaten. We are talking about cod, halibut and plaice. There is
nothing left. So the results cannot contribute to the science because the seals
have eaten it all. And in the same way, how do you want us to be able to fish
ecologically when we have this problem?
These images were taken with observers on board. Everything is calculated.
But how many years did it take before the department took these factors into
account? This is always what happens. The entire fishery has become like this.
Every time we fish with a hook or line, that is what happens. For the number of
heads we take, we probably do not see the number of heads lost underwater. This
is really becoming a problem for fishing.
Mr. Thériault: I am going to move a little more quickly for what comes
next, but just to show you. We often come back to the harp seal problem, because
it is the most well known species, the one that is most studied. But Canada has
made a lot of mistakes in this whole area. I am talking about 1964, the big
shock, the film Les grands phoques de la banquise by Serge Deyglun, which
was seen around the world. And then in 1969, along came Brian Davis, who left
the SPCA to create his own foundation, where he started to do fundraising. In
1976, with four members, they collected $800,000. A lot of people realized that
it was quite lucrative to work on seals. That led, in '72, to the Marine Mammal
Protection Act in the United States, which was enacted for no scientific reason.
It was passed with no excessive protest from Canada. This was a big mistake. And
we know what the situation has been from then on.
That involved a small group of hunters in the Maritimes. It was a very
important hunt. It probably became a political issue in exchange for other
things, but it still opened the door wide to something else.
In 1977, there was the well-known episode with Brigitte Bardot. The groups
realized that involving stars in these causes could be lucrative. In 1984, the
Malouf Commission came along, the second big mistake.
Once again, the whitecoat hunt, the industry's main source of revenue, was
ended, with no scientific basis, in view of the public pressure. Once again,
this was a serious mistake. In the beginning, serious groups came out against
the hunt because they believed there were various kinds of abuses. Those groups
all disappeared when the Malouf commission was told that the herds were not
remotely in danger of extinction. The hunting methods used, the rifle and
hakapik, were the best and most effective at the time. Organizations such as the
World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace withdrew, saying there was no reason to be
concerned, when there are other species genuinely in danger of extinction to
focus on. The groups that remained are the ones referred to as ``animal rights
activists,'' which opposed the hunt for no scientific or other reason.
All these mistakes that were made, with the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the
weight placed on the Malouf Commission and the importance of stopping the hunt,
gave those groups ammunition — so much so that today, in 2011, 38 years later,
we have a trade embargo on seal products in Europe, again for no reason. The
harp seal population comes to 10 million, and we are talking about 400,000 grey
seals. There are about 500 monk seals in the Mediterranean. The species is
becoming extinct and no one is talking about it. But here, the subject raises a
hue and cry. This is completely illogical.
In any event, the big question was whether the grey seal is a species unto
itself. If we assigned it the same importance as coyotes, wolves, geese, wild
boars or any other species, the committee would not exist. We would be saying
there are too many and there has to be a slaughter, period, because that is what
we do with the other animal species. Where is the mistake? How are the grey seal
and the harp seal different?
The ``animal rights'' activists have been tugging on heartstrings for nearly
40 years. A survey by TNS Canadian Facts a year or two ago showed that
regardless of how well informed they were on the subject, 63 per cent of
Canadians supported the seal hunt if it is done properly and for the balance of
The ``animal rights'' activists are said to be divided into two groups: the
manipulated and the manipulators. The manipulated make up a majority of the
people who donate to this cause. The manipulators are the ones who know very
well that there is a large seal problem and there is no problem, but this cause
brings in $250 million a year for the four American groups. They make a lot more
money from seals than we can.
The role of a government is to provide sound management, to make decisions
based on facts, whether or not they are popular. That is why we are before you
today. We are presenting you with facts and people have come to testify to tell
you there is a problem with the grey seal. The problem has reached a point that
if it is not solved soon, it will be too late.
It is somewhat bizarre for Canada to allow itself to be preached at by the
United States and Europe on this issue. The only thing Canada can be criticized
for in this situation is not controlling the seal population when it got too
big. In the United States, there are considerably fewer seals. In Europe, there
are almost none left. They have exterminated their seal populations. We, on the
other hand, have a surplus. We could even send them some, if they would like.
As I was saying before, the issue is management methods, as is the case for
all animal species. In the case of overpopulation, we do three things: introduce
a predator and/or move some individuals to other locations and/or reduce the
population through selective slaughter. For the grey seal, we cannot use the
first two solutions. So that leaves only one.
This issue raises a hue and cry, when in the case of foxes, coyotes, wolves,
deer, geese, kangaroos and a number of others species, when there is
overpopulation, there is a slaughter.
The ``animal rights'' activists hammer home the message that slaughter
amounts to a lack of respect. Obviously, this is not the case. Everyone is aware
that since the dawn of time, every species on this planet has survived through
the death of another species, be it animal or vegetable, and that is how it will
always be. People like us who far from the big urban centres are very aware of
that reality, which is the only way to live with dignity in those communities.
We have people here from Newfoundland and all over the country. When you are not
a building engineer, for example, and you live in the Magdalen Islands, there
are facts of life that mean that you have to live off the resources around you.
That is what we are trying to do. Failing to respect a resource like this puts
us in a precarious position. No one is going to come and testify before this
committee and say that we want to exterminate the grey seal. We want to control
its population and restore balance in the ecosystem.
Our first choice is to use this resource. In the slide, we are showing what
has been done with the harp seal. The potential of the grey seal is nearly the
same. However, studies have to be redone, and mercury levels and skin density
and type of fur measured again. While we are waiting, we have a major
overpopulation problem that has to be solved. And in the process, we will do
studies and we will exploit the resource. The potential is there.
We have brought our products with us. I invite you to taste them and examine
them. You will see they are excellent products. Boots are made, omega 3s are
produced. Studies have even been done on heart valves. Recently, we have spoken
with scientists who say we could use seal as bait for crustaceans and lobster or
crab fishing. In fact, we are starting to have problems there. There is less
bait for fishing for crustaceans. If we take an endangered fish species to fish
for lobster, we go to market with products that are traceable and we will be
told we cannot use a species that is becoming extinct to fish for lobster, in
spite of the value added. With seal products, the situation would be ideal. We
could use bait from seal products, which exist in large quantities, and spare
the fish species that are currently being used as bait.
The situation would be ideal. However, to do that, policies have to be
approved. With the Marine Mammal Protection Act and everything that is going on
to reduce the market, the job is somewhat difficult. Bizarrely, the ``animal
rights'' activists blame us for having no market. There are numerous solutions.
Those groups are both limiting our market and accusing us of not having a
In conclusion, controlling the grey seal population is not an option, it is a
necessity. We are not wondering whether it should be done. We are wondering how
to do it. The issue has to be examined. We prefer to use the resource. However,
controlling the population must be the priority. If we do that, we would kill
two birds with one stone. We would be creating jobs for seal hunters, we would
be supporting a high potential industry, and we would be restoring the
ecosystem, and at the same time giving work to fishers who have no work. This is
a win-win situation.
Thank you for your attention. I hope I have not taken too much time and also
that you will have some questions about this.
The Chair: Thank you very much. That was a very interesting
presentation. I am sure it has piqued the interest of some of the senators
around the table. As usual, we will go to our first question from our Deputy
Chair, Senator Hubley.
Before doing that, I would like to welcome Senator Don Oliver, who has joined
us since you gave your presentation. He is also from Nova Scotia, so we are
delighted to have him with us. He is a great resource in many ways.
Senator Hubley: Welcome, and thank you for making a fairly long trip
to come and give us your testimony this evening. I will ask you a few questions
about the Magdalen Islands seal hunters association, if you do not mind. How
many seal hunters are there in your association, or how many seal hunters do you
Mr. Longuépée: In the Magdalen Islands, every year, 800 hunters get
their licences. Out of 800 hunters, we can say that about 400 are commercial
hunters who take part in the hunt every year. You do not have to be a fisher to
be a hunter. Where we live, there are doctors who are hunters, and lawyers;
anyone can be a hunter. You take a training course; it takes some time to get
experience, so you go hunting with people and that is what enables you to become
We, in the association, do not represent 800 hunters, because a lot of
hunters are fishers who also belong to the fishers' association. But we all sit
on the same seal hunt committee in the Magdalen Islands. I represent all the
hunters in the Magdalen Islands.
Senator Hubley: Thank you. How would your association be funded?
Mr. Longuépée: Funding for the association is very difficult. We get
help from our Quebec government, but through MAPAQ, the ministère des Pêches et
de l'Agriculture, which has given us a grant to help us for the last two years.
That is how we were able to hire Gil Thériault, in communications, to have a
communications strategy to deal with the ``animal rights'' activists who have
been hammering us for 40 years.
Otherwise, we sell membership cards. I work on a volunteer basis; I am a
lobster fisher. I can tell you that I do many, many hours of volunteer work. It
is not that I feel obliged to do it, but I really do feel anxiety when people
treat us like barbarians in the Magdalen Islands. We are a small community; we
have always grown up living off our fish resources. There was a time, for us,
when the seal was our source of food. Since we were isolated during the long
winter months and there was no transportation like airplanes, the only fresh
food we had in the spring was seal.
For decades, the people in the Magdalen Islands survived off the seals. Then,
the Europeans came and showed us that we could commercialize the seals.
Americans, Bretons, Basques, everybody profited from the riches brought by the
seals. Today, those same people are telling us we should not kill the seals
I have met several times with Sheryl Fink, who is in charge at IFAW. Last
year, I came to Parliament in Ottawa and we made a presentation. We brought seal
meat; everyone tasted it except her. I think it was out of respect for her work.
Afterward she came to see me, and I asked her why she had not tasted the seal
meat. For 40 years, you have told us that we hunted only for the fur. Today, we
are developing omega-3, we are developing collagen; studies are being done on
heart valves, and we are still selling the fur. And she herself told me: ``We
have nothing against you for the fact that you are developing the meat, but
leave the fur on the ice floe.'' This lady was wearing lovely leather boots. I
asked her what her boots were made of. She said it was synthetic. Synthetics are
destroying our planet. They are petroleum that is being wasted and destroyed.
What we want, in the Magdalen Islands, is to make use of our natural
resources. The seals are there; we are talking about 10 million individuals. At
present, we are talking about grey seal overpopulation. Our goal is to reduce
the population to preserve our fish resources. But if we can then commercialize
the grey seal, we will be delighted because we like to be able to benefit from
At present, our goal is not to try to find markets for the grey seal, it is
rather to reduce the population. I am currently on employment insurance for the
winter because I cannot fish. If that continues, I will always be on employment
insurance because I will no longer be able to work. The fact that we are here,
that I have come as a volunteer to speak to you, is because I have concerns for
my entire community.
I hope you are going to listen to us and understand that in the people's
eyes, the grey seal is a problem; but for us, it is doubly a problem. They are
in our fridge and we cannot stop them from eating any longer.
Mr. Thériault: Forty years ago the ``animal rights'' groups got
involved in this issue. I think we have to make a clear point, which we could
have done a long time ago, but we will never be able to make these people happy.
Never. We have been trying to do it for 40 years. The methods and the quotas
have been changed. In any event, realistically, and I have been observing the
issue for a long time and have studied it from top to bottom, what they want is
not to stop the seal hunt. As I showed you just now, they make more money out of
it than we do. Their job is to keep the controversy alive, and that is how they
So we will never be able to make these people happy; they will always find
some way of saying no, there is something that is not right. If it isn't the
meat, it's the fur; if it isn't the fur, it will be something else. There will
always be something. When I was talking a moment ago about sound management,
that is the thing. Even though fewer than one per cent of the population are
vegetarian, and even fewer are vegan, many of those people really do not care
whether we eat meat or not. We are talking about a very small percentage of
fanatics about this. The rest are all people who are misinformed. If we eat pork
or chicken or whatever else, why not seal? Why not exploit the seals? Again,
what is the difference?
At some point we have to make logical decisions to protect the coastal
communities, the ecosystem and the fish stocks, and do what has to be done to
control these populations, period.
Senator Oliver: Thank you very much for your presentation. I apologize
for being late; I had another meeting to attend.
I was very impressed with the evidence that you have given because you have
heaped give the facts for what I thought existed. With your knowledge and
experience, it is very useful to hear it.
One of the things that you did say in your earlier presentation is that if we
do not deal with it soon, it will be too late. It is the ``it will be too
late,'' part that I would like you to elaborate on.
Mr. Cyr: Thank you for the question. When we say it will be too late,
it has to be said that we have been talking about seals since the 1990s, and not
just in the Magdalen Islands; it is in the entire gulf. We are talking about
Anticosti, the Gaspé, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, the
inner gulf, and also the outer gulf: Sidney, South Nova, Cape Breton; people are
concerned about the grey seal problem all over.
When we look at our fishery problems, the results of the entire fishery we
have had since the 1990s, the moratoriums, one after another, all species, what
species are doing well in the gulf, except lobster? I do not know of any more.
Certainly, there have probably been problems with management. The fishers
always want to fish, certainly. But today, with the cod moratoriums, the
recruiting we see, particularly in cod, we see there is a problem somewhere. In
the 1990s, there were cod that were big enough to lay eggs. We saw that all the
small cod were disappearing. Something was going wrong. It was all very well to
say that warm water or cold water or something else was the cause. Others like
myself saw very clearly the problem of the grey seals for this resource. As I
say, their territory, their nursery, the grey seals' playing field, is shallow
water, 20 fathoms or less. But that is where all the small cod, under three
years old, have disappeared. We no longer find any in our experimental trawl
sets. There was a problem. The fishery was reopened, always in the same way, and
the grey seal stock continued to grow. Its behaviour toward us changed. Before,
it was the fisher chasing the fish; today, it is the grey seal chasing the
fisher. This is called depredation. It often feeds off the fisher.
The other aspect, too, is that everywhere there is a concentration of fish,
whether in the spawning grounds, concentrations of mackerel, of juvenile cod,
that come to feed near the shore, on forage species, capelin, sand lance, all
you see are thousands of grey seals.
Yesterday, I was talking to people in the Gaspé, fishing for herring on the
Pabos Bank, in Miscou. They put their herring nets in the water and there were
thousands of grey seals around them. They were everywhere, even in the river
mouths. The fishers do not know what to do anymore.
We talked to people in Newfoundland who wanted to trawl for herring with
their seines. They could not cast them. There were too many harp seals there.
That has an impact on the herring because they will not come to spawn. They have
to go to the seabed. There is a specific place. They go underneath. They push
Senator Oliver: What is the consequence?
What will happen if something does not happen? If they keep increasing in
population, what is the consequence? Why will it be too late?
Mr. Cyr: A lot of species have already disappeared and it is going to
be hard for their population to increase even if there were no seals. Imagine
today, with the number of seals and the disruption in all the zones where there
are a few fish, I do not see how we can increase the fish stocks. It is becoming
almost impossible right now. Since the 1990s, we have been bringing all the
problems about the groundfish to the advisory committee in Moncton, year after
I am the man who brought the seal head to the committee to tell them we have
a fishing fleet that has never been represented on a committee, to get them to
respond. A lot of people at Fisheries and Oceans laughed. They laughed, but they
did not respond. We are keeping the same problem going now. We no longer know
what to do.
If we do not respond, we are going to lose everything. There is a disruption
in small cod. It is pushing the cod into waters that are really not suited to
small cod. There is consumption and predation. If we think about cod parasites,
what is it costing the industry to have seals? The parasites they give to the
fish. We were talking about cod. I had an experiment at the department from 2008
to 2011, three years, during the moratorium. I checked cod livers this year.
This year alone, there were three times more parasites. We never saw a worm in
halibut during the 1990s. For the last three or for years, in all the halibut
sides, we have started to see parasites. The parasites are everywhere.
This year, our government in Quebec invested a lot of money in mackerel for
human consumption because it is an excellent meat, healthwise, because of its
omega-3. We are starting to find worms in mackerel. Where will we end up if we
leave the seals there? Newfoundland seal or harp seal, we were looking at them
today with the people from there, if we leave the grey seal in our region, in
the gulf and even on the southwest coast of Nova Scotia, we are going to lose
all our resources.
This is the larder for the entire population of eastern Canada, and it is the
only one they have. They cannot grow carrots and lots of things in Newfoundland.
That is not reality. The soil is really not suited to that. Yes, certainly, they
are going to eat potatoes in Prince Edward Island, but you cannot feed seals
with that. That is the reality.
There is something that can be done and we have to start right now. We do not
really have big plans in our heads because we have a grey seal problem. There
may be commercializing to do, but we absolutely have to start somewhere and that
is where we are. We absolutely have to start somewhere to save our communities.
As Denis said, I have been doing this as a volunteer since the 1980s. No one
has ever given me a penny. To testify before committees, I have to travel on a
volunteer basis, as an expert. That is not reasonable. I do not do it just for
myself. There are young fishers coming up behind me. I do not see where those
people can possibly find a place because we are not solving problems when they
arise. If we talk about precautionary approaches with the Department of
Fisheries and Oceans, they should have done it 10 years ago when they started to
say it existed. We would not be here.
Mr. Longuépée: When we talk about worms we find in fish, it is from
marine mammal excrement, seal excrement, that falls to the sea bottom and is
eaten by the fish and causes worms. Previously, they were found only in cod, and
today they are being found in all fish species. If we prefer to let the seal
population grow, there will be more and more and we will no longer be able to
commercialize any products in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Mr. Thériault: I would like to make a comment, If we go back 50 years
or so, Ghislain can talk about it better than I can, but fishers worked
practically year-round. Those people stopped for a month in the winter, maybe.
Mr. Cyr: They started working on the water in early March, with the
seals, and I never saw them finish before November 15. Every day of the year,
there was something to fish. First, in that era, it was less complicated because
you got a licence in the spring and went out to fish as you liked and you fished
all year. Today, with the fishing conditions, everything there is to fill out,
it is different. And there is no fishing anymore.
Mr. Thériault: It is shocking because the population of the Maritimes
sometimes looks like welfare recipients, but these people have been pushed into
that and they keep on being pushed.
The grey seal is one of the problems. It is not ``the'' problem. There are
still other problems and there will be other problems, but it is always driven
by inaction. A fishery is closed here and another is closed there and another
over there. You end up with people who ultimately, in a year, are happy when
they work 12 or 14 weeks. That is absolutely unreasonable.
Senator Poirier: Thank you for your presentation, gentlemen. I have a
few questions to follow up on what we have heard. Just now you explained the
reason why there were worms in the various fish now when there were no worms
before. Is this because of the arrival of the grey seals or did this problem
already exist with the harp seals?
Mr. Cyr: If we look just at the 1980s, the number of grey seals was
around 10,000, 12,000, and we have seen a direct increase in terms of worms in
cod. The line followed the same curve.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, in the inner gulf, they caught cod and took it
to the Gaspé this year, and it was processed. It took several people to remove
They took the cod from our zone, by the Laurentian Channel that goes all
along the Laurentian Channel and goes through the inner Gulf. They had to hire a
lot more people because there were 10 times more parasites in the cod flesh. And
if you came to the coast where we live, it is even worse. Because often, there
are so many parasites that when you do a fillet, the fillet is so atrophied that
there is only one solution, and that is to throw it back in the water. This
makes no sense. As well, it is affecting other species. As we say back home,
sometimes you made plaice fillets. And they say that when you make the fillet,
you put it on the table, it moves all by itself. That is not reasonable.
Mr. Longuépée: The harp seal comes to calve in the St. Lawrence
Estuary and the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador, but it never stays
year-round. So the impact of the excrement is not the same. There is virtually
none and also the water is so cold when they come that the larvae do not develop
in the same way as the larvae from the grey seals, which are there in the
summer, at a time when the water is a lot warmer. So it is a lot easier.
Senator Poirier: What do you think is the cause of the rise in the
grey seal population?
Mr. Longuépée: The lack of management by the Department of Fisheries
and Oceans Canada. There is no predator for the grey seal in the Gulf of St.
Lawrence. The only predators are human beings.
Twenty years ago, the government realized that the grey seal population had
started to increase. They then gave out licences to try to contain the
population. At the time, that worked. The fishers, the hunters, were paid. If
someone went fishing and saw a seal, they had to bring back the jawbone and then
the people were paid. That was done for about 25 years. It was abandoned after
that, with the European ban and everything that followed, and that is where it
Since then, I am neither a scientist nor a fisher with enough experience with
the grey seal to know everything that has gone on. That is why we take
experienced fishers who have been on the ground for 40 years. They are the ones
who have seen the growth in the herd. Myself, I am a young fisher. Before, we
fished for fish and today we fish for seals. Because they are always after our
bait. Before, it was not like that. We have really seen an increase. They say
that normally there should be a predator. There are sharks. Where I live, we
prefer not to see them because we have beautiful beaches and in the summer we
lay on the beaches. There are not a lot of sharks. There are some from time to
time, and when there are, sometimes they get caught in the net. But there are
not enough sharks to count and to work on the grey seal population. So the
population is still growing.
Senator Poirier: You say that human beings are the predators. Are
human beings the predators for the grey seal today? Is there an authorization, a
quota, an entitlement to hunt?
Mr. Longuépée: At present, Ghislain is hunting with his scientific
licences to take samples and determine the age, the consumption, and a lot of
things. But as fishers, we are entitled to get a licence that is called a
nuisance licence. If I am fishing for halibut and I have a seal around me, it is
impossible to fish for halibut. What I can do is kill the seal and then I can
keep fishing. I am entitled to do that.
For us, our main goal is not to hunt seals, it is to fish. But when we have a
nuisance alongside, we do not have the option of doing that. For years, we have
been telling the government that the seal population has to be reduced. Before,
you did not see grey seals around boats. You saw them in a few places. But now
you see schools of them. Sometimes you can say 100 individuals together
following the boats, because they know they are going out to fish. They no
longer have to chase the fish; they chase our boats. The only boat they are
afraid of at the moment in the Magdalen Islands is his boat. They recognize the
sound the boat makes, because they know he is entitled to hunt them more than we
Senator Poirier: Earlier you talked about various seal products that
have commercial potential. I imagine we are talking about the harp seal.
Do you think there is a potential market for grey seals, such as the products
you showed here, and a possibility of research you are currently doing with
Mr. Longuépée: For 40 years, we have been fighting to try to develop
our products. But we always have the ``animal rights'' groups against us. Today,
we have managed to get products like omega-3s, collagen, heart valves, meat and
fur. It comes from fishing businesses and hunting businesses, to develop these
products. It has taken us 40 years. If we want to do the same thing with the
grey seal, where is the problem? To the Canadian government, the seal is a fish,
and to the provincial government, the seal is meat. So what we are proposing is
that it is neither a fish nor meat, it is a marine mammal.
Then the laws then become a lot less strict. For fish, you are allowed to eat
tuna that has a small amount of mercury. That is reasonable in fish, such as
mackerel or certain other fish. So little is eaten that there is no problem for
human consumption. If we talk about it as meat, you cannot have a percentage of
mercury. On the whole problem of commercialization with China, we are constantly
talking about what seals are. Are they fish or are they meat? We say they are
neither, they are a marine mammal. To solve our problems, we have to start
specifying that a seal is a marine mammal and then we can manage it as such.
Starting from that, when we talk about marine mammals, it will be much easier
for us to commercialize them. I have some seal meat, but I am breaking the law
because ordinarily, I am not entitled to cross provincial lines with it. I tell
myself it is not a big deal; I am doing it for the senators. You are more
important than a lot of people.
It is fine. There is no problem. It meets Quebec standards. But to
commercialize it outside Quebec, it cannot be meat, it has to be fish. You have
it at the Parliament of Canada, and the head chef of the Parliament of Canada
goes to buy it in Gatineau, because he cannot buy it in Ontario. When we talk
about commercializing a product, the government has to help us. We are ready to
commercialize it. We have been working to develop our products for 40 years.
People treat us like barbarians, but in the very near future we are going to
save human lives with our heart valves. The collagen is used to heal burns. We
have omega-3s that are no longer found in fish. All we need is for the
government to help us. There are so many opportunities, when you think about
China, we could not meet the demand there alone.
Mr. Thériault: You ask whether there is commercial potential. It is
enormous. It is unbelievable, the commercial potential. Is there a market? That
is another question. There are precisely a lot of factors apart from the fact
that it is an excellent product. There are all the bans, the image question, the
regulation question, and so on. There are a lot of spokes in the wheels.
But if you ask whether there is potential and whether it is a good product,
it is unbelievable, it is almost a miracle product.
Senator Poirier: Mr. Thériault, you mentioned that the people who are
opposed to the seal hunt make more money that the fishers. People hunt bears,
they hunt moose, they hunt deer. We do not hear these kinds of protests. So at
the end of the day, is more a matter of the almighty dollar than anything else?
Mr. Thériault: Totally, 100 per cent. I said that earlier and that is
what I think. If you study the issue properly, you will see that is really the
case. There are hundreds of thousands of people being manipulated by
disinformation campaigns who will give money for causes that are not causes,
probably to stop feeling guilty about a lot of other things. The species is not
becoming extinct. The way it is slaughtered is better than slaughterhouses. They
know all that, but they continue mounting campaigns to save the baby seals.
Baby seals, we will agree, is more marketing. No one says ``baby cow'' or
``baby horse.'' In fact, someone from Newfoundland said that every time he heard
``baby seal,'' he asked, ``Do you have a human puppy at home?'' If you use
``baby seal,'' you can then use backwards logic and you realize it is a little
bizarre. People do not ask the question, everyone says ``baby seal.''
These people have been engaging in disinformation for 40 years, to the point
that, once again, we are holding a session on it today. If it were any other
animal, we would not be doing it. We would be saying, ``There are too many; kill
Mr. Longuépée: You talked about hunting moose and deer. There is no
other hunt for which people are allowed to go out and film the way we are
filmed. The government has allowed these people to come and film us. The
regulations require that they be 10 metres, 30 feet, away. Today we use rifles
that shoot from a mile away, and these people are allowed to come and film us
standing 10 metres away from us!
First, we are stressed from the conditions of the hunt. And second, we are
stressed because if there were an accident and one of these people got shot,
very certainly they would say we did it on purpose. Hunting accidents happen
everywhere. No one is guilty when there is a hunting accident. But on the ice
floes, we are faced with these people every day.
I was in Europe with Senator Manning, and I saw my friends, live, hunting
seals in the Magdalen Islands. They were doing a professional job, and there was
nothing bad. But according to the people in Europe, this was a scandal.
Certainly no one likes to see an animal get killed. I am a hunter and the first
seal I kill, I feel a little twinge, but I know I am not doing it for fun. I am
doing it because I am bringing meat home, I am earning money, I am supporting
people, I am healing people.
When you think that Rebecca Aldworth, the president of the Humane Society — a
president in Canada — earns $500,000 a year, that is more than your salary, more
than the salary of the prime minister of Canada and more than the salary of the
President of the United States! It makes no sense that these people earn more
money than we earn from it. Somewhere, people prefer to give money, like Bob
Barker who gave $5 million — a blank cheque — to help Paul Watson, who had lost
a boat in Japan. These people are disconnected from reality. That is our problem
Mr. Cyr: I would like to add something on the subject of the market,
if I may. We do a lot of work to send products to China and elsewhere. I think
that if we could just remove the barriers in Canada so seal products could be
available everywhere, it would be fantastic. We are talking about seal oil,
omega-3s, which are good for heart problems. Why send it to China when we North
Americans have more heart problems? We would have a market here, all around us.
Let us start by developing the product at home; if it becomes attractive here,
it would certainly also be to others.
Senator MacDonald: Thank you for coming this evening. I do not have a
lot of questions because I do not disagree with you on anything. Growing up in a
fishing community I have seen the devastation caused by factory freezer trawlers
off of Louisbourg for 35 or 40 years. I have seen ships coming into Louisbourg
with 230,000 yellowtail and 60,000 bycatch cod, and three or four plants
working. There is nothing left. It happened for generations because government
bureaucrats in Canada sold the people out to foreign governments. This is just
another example of what has happened for decades.
I was in San Antonio this summer. I turned on the television and saw an
anti-seal hunt advertisement, and they were showing whitecoats. This is what we
are up against. In some ways we are up against ourselves. The Government of
Canada must take a stand on these industries on behalf of the fishing
communities, the sealers and the East Coast of Canada.
There are many questions raised with regard to providing markets for these
products, but I am of the opinion that, regardless of whether we can find
suitable markets at the present time, we have to do something about the numbers
of these animals. If these animals were just culled and allowed to go to the
bottom as lobster food, what would happen to them?
Mr. Cyr: They would go back to nature.
Mr. Longuépée: If you open them, they will sink right away. If they
are unopened, they will float and come to the beach.
Mr. Thériault: One of the problems we have with this issue is that we
always fall into a grey area. That is the case with the grey seal, we fall
between the cracks.
I think that the federal government and the provincial governments in Canada
need a department of marine mammals. Then we could say, correctly, ``Here, it is
neither meat nor fish, it is a marine mammal and we have our own rules for it.''
There is a lot of talk about controlling the population, but that would mean we
could save populations that are genuinely becoming extinct, such as the narwhal
or other species of whale.
We have a big problem at the moment. There are people in the department who
want to help us, but they tell us they are sorry because their hands are tied.
They cannot help us because we do not fall into any category; we have a
What we are proposing today, what would be really worth considering, would be
to have a department of marine mammals at both the federal and provincial
Senator Patterson: I would like to thank the presenters for their
passion and knowledge. I am grateful that we have real experts before us.
I represent the Inuit of the North who have survived for thousands of years
using the seal for food, clothing and heat. These are people who hunt with
respect and they, like you, are terribly offended to be described as savage,
barbarian, inhumane and cruel. It is a deep source of anger and embarrassment to
the Inuit that they are so misunderstood by campaigns that are motivated largely
to collect money. I was very grateful for the information you provided about the
amount of money that is collected by the activists. I think it is something our
committee may want to look into further.
I believe you gave the figure of $250 million that was raised by four animal
welfare organizations, and you had some evidence about the salary that was paid
to the president of the Humane Society.
Mr. Thériault: Yes. There was a little mistake there. Rebecca Aldworth
is not paid as much, as far as I know. He was referring to the president of the
Humane Society of the United States, HSUS, because they are a public
organization. The previous president was paid something close to half a million
dollars. The new president makes a little less than that. Then again, they have
all sorts of freebies, expenses, retreat money, et cetera. It is always hard to
pinpoint exactly. The figures we have show they are well paid.
Mr. Longuépée: I would say that there were four groups before, and now
there are almost 20 anti-sealing groups. Everyone tried to get money from the
seals. It is easy. You just put a picture on the Internet and you get money.
Everyone does it.
Senator Patterson: I am finding myself agreeing with what you said
today, that the cull is maybe one option to deal with this hugely increasing
population, but that your preference would be to have a sustainable harvest.
Certainly, this is the way it has been with the people of the North.
I am wondering if you have any advice for us, or further thoughts, about how
Canada could support a commercial harvest. What could we do, as a government, to
develop the potential of this marine resource? I know Canada has a strategy to
encourage mining. We have strategies for agriculture and forestry. There does
not seem to be a strategy for this other wonderful, rich resource that we now
have in abundance.
Do you have some further thoughts about how Canada could develop this
resource? What are the next steps?
Mr. Thériault: There are a lot of spokes in the wheels in this issue,
whether it be the regulations or marketing, and also the public image, which is
a major problem. The way the government could help with this would be to sit
down with us and talk with us for a half-hour. We would have 20 suggestions to
I will give you an example that has been joked about a few times. If the
government of Canada decided to give the RCMP seal gloves and hats instead of
having other animal species, probably there would be enough for the market. They
would need go no farther.
The issue is not so very difficult to solve, but it takes political will; it
takes people who are visionaries and who are going to take the issue seriously,
because once again, we do not even have a department of marine mammals. We do
not even have that. That is the basic thing. We cannot sit down with anyone
because there is no one handling this issue. There are people who handle the
fish that are at the bottom of the food chain, but the thing at the top of the
food chain, there is no one handling that at all.
And ideas like the one I just mentioned could be applied to lots of other
things. We know the benefits of omega-3s that could be made available in the
schools. The products are not even available. Once we start working on an image
and we say it is proper to control a seal population, the seal is not the gods'
chosen animal, it is an animal that is part of the food chain, part of the
ecosystem, like all of us. There is overpopulation, let us use this resource,
and this is how we can do it.
Another example: a lot of egg producers feed their chickens fish oil so the
eggs contain omega-3s. You must have seen advertising campaigns about this.
Scientists have proved that omega-3s from seals are higher quality. There is an
additional HPA particle, and also it oxidizes more slowly. Research has proved
it. But poultry producers will not do it because they are afraid of campaigns
that could hurt their image, that might say they killed baby seals to sell their
eggs. That is a simplification, but that is how it is: no, we are not going to
We were talking earlier about a company that made animal feed. Senator
Hervieux-Payette said it could be worth seeing how this could be used with
animals. As well, as we know, we give it to our animals in the Magdalen Islands.
They have beautiful fur and they love the taste. But is a company going to make
that switch when there are advertising campaigns like this? I am not sure they
want to take that chance. It is like a snake eating its own tail. We have to
move ahead publicly and educate people, and tell them this is the reality.
Study after study has been done. They are killed in the best way possible.
Sorry, it is a public slaughter, it is not pretty, we apologize, we would like
to do it inside four walls, but it is very difficult. But these are the results,
and these are the products we can offer you, and they are excellent. Then there
would be more and more people who would go beyond the signs and would be
interested in trying it. There would be a market.
Mr. Cyr: Would it be possible today to make seal products available to
all Canadians, since it has been proved that they are very high quality and very
good for human health? Is it possible to make them available to all Canadians?
That is the top priority.
Mr. Longuépée: Remove the barriers. At school, I was given cod liver
oil. We had to take supplements every morning. If omega-3 is so good and we are
trying to develop products in China to sell them, why not given them in the
schools, and children would have fewer heart problems later? I have no end of
ideas. We just have to take down the barriers. For the meat, there are people in
British Columbia who call us to get seal meat because they saw a chef working
with it on television. We tell them we are going to send you a sample, but you
are not allowed to sell it, that is illegal. This is ridiculous, that we are not
able to market the product here at home because our provinces cannot agree, they
have different views about what constitutes food.
Mr. Thériault: Once again, we understand you have been sent products.
Someone who does not eat commercial chicken, pork and beef, I am not sure they
will appreciate seal meat. But it is a marine mammal, so it is game.
But there is a good chance that a curious person who likes wild boar or deer
or venison is going to love this product. This product is not going to replace
pork, of course. It is a high-range product that some game lovers and gourmets
will want to try and may even incorporate into their diet.
Mr. Longuépée: It is a product rich in iron.
Mr. Cyr: The difference between seal meat and beef is enormous. In the
1930s, some people asked why people living in the north did not have vitamin C
deficiencies when they ate practically no fruits or vegetables. So what was this
miracle? The miracle was found in meat from seals and marine mammals.
Mr. Thériault: In the fat.
The Chair: I will use my position as chair to butt in for a moment. I
want to get some clarification on cross border. With some products I know that
there must be a federal inspection. Why can you not take the product from Quebec
and sell it in Ontario or elsewhere? Can you explain that a bit more? I think
there may be some confusion over that. You understand that issue fully, do you?
Mr. Longuépée: I am going to tell you about my province, Quebec. We
come under the ministère des Pêches et de l'Agriculture. That department manages
both fish and meat. Outside the province, seals are not considered to be fish,
they are considered to be meat. In the federal government's eyes, seal is a
fish. The Quebec standards respecting the commercializing of seal meat do not
apply outside Quebec. I still do not understand why that is the case. All the
fish plants come under federal regulations and have to undergo inspection by the
federal government. For the province, it is MAPAQ that legislates on the
As I told you earlier, there must be no mercury levels in meat. However, seal
has a mercury level similar to fish. That rate is considered to be acceptable in
the case of fish. However, since seal is treated like a meat, it cannot be
commercialized or exported.
We asked whether it was possible to use fish plants to process seal meat. We
were told that fish plants are not allowed to process meat. We therefore have a
serious problem, for the government to define this product. It is neither fish
nor meat. It is a marine mammal. The only way we can start solving this problem
is to have a clause on marine mammals. Today we are talking about seals. In 50
years, the beluga stocks may have recovered to a high enough level in the Gulf
of St. Lawrence that we will have to hunt them. No one knows what the future
holds. But we have to be able to benefit from our natural resources, whatever
the product. The present situation is different.
We live in a small community. There is only the specialized butcher shop
Côte-à-Côte, in Quebec, where they make seal-based products. In Newfoundland,
they had flipper pie, which was a more regional product. The problem for them
perhaps did not arise. We are starting to export the product and the other
provinces are interested in doing the same. In China, everyone wants meat. So we
have to solve this problem, and first, identify the product.
Is that better?
The Chair: Somewhat. We were trying to figure out where the seal is
fished and where it is eaten. I will use your province as an example, as the
three of you are from Quebec. In Quebec, the seal is considered ``a fish.''
Mr. Cyr: No it is a meat.
The Chair: When it crosses the border, is it considered a fish?
Mr. Thériault: It depends where.
Mr. Longuépée: No because in Quebec, in the Magdalen Islands, we do
not have any federally approved plan for meat. That is why we are unable to
export our product. In Newfoundland, if you have a federal plan for meat and it
is already approved by the federal government, you can probably export the seal.
It is crazy, but it is like that.
The Chair: That is for sure.
Mr. Cyr: In Newfoundland, seal has always considered to be a fish.
Where I live, it is meat. We are stuck with these regulations. In the 1990s,
when I worked for the Canadian Sealers Association, in Newfoundland, for seven
or eight years, we had this problem and they did not understand. You question
makes me laugh a bit because we always fought for the provincial government to
give seals a particular status, for it to be considered to be neither meat nor
fish, in order to be able to export it at least from one province to another.
Newfoundland could do it, but not us, and things have not changed.
It is not reasonable that today, with the development in Newfoundland and all
the products that can be derived from seal, for us to be unable to sell this
product at home, in Canada, in the normal way.
Mr. Longuépée: It has now been a year since we asked for a meeting
with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency so it could consider the question, and
I am still waiting.
The Chair: Thank you. I think many members of the committee, including
myself, are interested in those comments. It gives us another level of the
concern we have in trying to develop this industry in our own backyard, to take
it to other parts of the world.
Senator Patterson: That was the very question I was going to ask. I
appreciate you asking it.
I wanted to ask one more, if I may. As you say, we are dealing with
misinformation now. It seems that the animal rights groups — who have been
targeting us with an almost obnoxious amount of email communications since we
started this study — are blaming the decline of the cod on overfishing and
Do you have any comments on that? You talked a bit about the history and the
decline of the catch. Is foreign fishing a factor in your region? Is overfishing
a factor in your region? They are telling us, ``Do not blame the seals; it is
We want to get the facts. You are on the water. What is the truth?
Mr. Cyr: The resource management agencies, the fishing industry and
the communities are not above reproach. The stocks were managed in such a way
that, starting in the years when the 200-mile zone was established, all the big
foreign fleets were put outside the area both along the Newfoundland coast and
along the Gulf Coast. The areas outside the international zones were located
about 12 miles off the coasts, and this meant that they were coming into the
Gulf and doing more or less what they wanted.
The big fleets were taken out of the gulf and they were replaced by even more
powerful ships. We saw a few Canadian ships. I remember a time when the
government, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, allowed
Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and everyone to catch large quantities of fish.
Of course, during a certain period, in the 1990s, the communities wanted
longer fishing seasons so they could receive employment insurance benefits.
Pressure was brought to bear everywhere in eastern Canada, certainly. Myself, I
told them that if we fished in order to get employment insurance, the next year
social assistance would be waiting for us. Unfortunately, that is what happened.
Around 1993, at the time of the first moratorium, there was still a certain
biomass of cod; there were still cod of a certain size. There were relatively
large spawners in the water. The moratorium was lifted in 1999, when there was
still a good stock of fish. What were missing were juveniles; the recruitment
that was not to be found.
During the same period, the management method in some areas led to fish
losses. They were being managed species by species. That is still being done and
it is a problem, a real problem. We do have to change our way of managing the
fish because what we have done to date is not working. There is serious work to
At the same time, the story of the quotas caused a lot of dumping and waste.
Some was to be expected, but not to that point. When you think about the whole
cod stock we had, the broodstock and all that, in relation to the rise in the
grey seals, in relation to the loss of the juveniles, we know there is a serious
You can easily see 100 grey seals arrive one night and sweep through the
whole area, pushing the fish, eating fish on the surface and everything. Before,
you saw one seal, it was an individual; then you started to see small groups of
10 or 15 or 100 or 200 or 300. They were no longer hunting in the same way. They
looked like a pack of wolves. They learned to hunt over time. With fish being
scarce, they continue hunting in a different way.
In all the areas where there are fish, as I was saying, there are grey seals.
Everywhere there is a concentration of fish, there is a large concentration of
grey seals as well. How to bring the cod stock back to a normal level when there
are always grey seals in the vicinity? It is difficult. It is impossible.
We have had a moratorium since 2008. I fish for groundfish. I have lost 50
per cent of my earnings, and when I see the seals continuing to consume like
that, I have a problem.
I can no longer feed my people at home. I have a problem seeing the grey
seals continuing to consume juveniles. The scientists consider a 35-centimetre
cod to be a big cod; to me, a big cod is 50 or 60 or 80 centimetres. That is a
big cod. That is a good layer. That is good broodstock.
We also have to find a method of managing so that the fish have a first
spawn. If the fish do not manage to have a first spawn because the grey seals
eat them, that is very difficult. We are going to have to look at this some
other way. Can we keep the large broodstock? What do we do to preserve the small
ones so one day they become large broodstock? We have to look at this. We are
realizing that the problem is one of recruitment.
Miscou is an amazing spawning ground in early July. Where are the grey seals
in early July? On Miscou. It is all of that together that you see in the water.
We are always on the water. We have not studied in this field, but we have spent
all our lives with our eyes on the water. We see all these things. This is
impossible, we cannot continue like this. We are destroying all the stocks. We
are destroying the ecosystem as a whole. We have to stop managing in a vacuum.
We have to think globally. All the species are related to one another. We have
to work that way. I am anxious for people to start thinking that way.
Mr. Longuépée: Fishers do bear a share of responsibility; there has
been overfishing and bad management, but in spite of the moratoriums, the cod
are not coming back and we are starting to understand, with the scientists and
the fishers, that the grey seal has a direct impact on this state of affairs. We
are realizing that even if we stop fishing for life, there is a predator there
that will continue, that goes places where the fish ordinarily go to lay their
eggs, that is going to go and disrupt them. We know that fish choose the water
temperature and places to spawn, and the seals are always there to disrupt them,
and that alters the entire ecosystem.
Mr. Thériault: The seal is a worse manager than DFO, if that is
possible. We must not forget that we are talking about an omnivore and it is not
going to allow itself to starve to death. It will eat algae, if it has to. It
will eat lobster, if it has to. It will eat tree bark, if it has to. It is not
going to allow itself to die.
Senator Patterson: You talked about the video that shows the harps
eating the small bit and the greys eating the belly. Can you tell us where we
can get that video, either now or later?
Mr. Longuépée: It is on YouTube.
Mr. Thériault: It is on our website. I gave the clerk all the
information. On our website, there is a link for it.
Senator Patterson: Thank you.
Mr. Longuépée: It has happened in Newfoundland.
Senator Patterson: Thank you.
Senator Raine: Could you give the website for the people who are
watching on CPAC? Would you mind putting it up so that people watching the
program today will have it?
Mr. Thériault: The website is www.chasseursdephoques.com or
Senator Raine: For my own information, you say that when the
scientists count the fish in the stomachs of the seals, they count the small
bones in the head, and that is how they know how many fish have been eaten. They
know, I guess, the age of the seals. You are saying that they are eating many
others by just eating the belly, so they are not eating any head bones. Is that
Mr. Cyr: If you are talking about harp seals, they are the ones that
eat almost all the bellies. That is what they call ``belly bites.'' Most of the
time, it is more in deep-water, like down to 50 or 60 fathoms. In Newfoundland,
inside the Gulf, you can see that quite often. They are also pushing. The
experience I have had is that sometime the harp seals arrive in big herds, and
they push all the fish right up to the shore so that the fish pile up and pile
up. They keep them on the bay and just go around and bite and bite and bite;
they eat almost everything.
Mr. Thériault: It is much easier for large fish like cod than for
small fish. But a fish like cod is bigger and slower, it is much easier for
Senator Raine: What I am really getting at is this: Are DFO scientists
talking to you and getting your information?
Mr. Cyr: If you would not mind, I will just finish up on the belly
bite question. The belly bite is what the harp seal does. If we are talking
about the grey seal, you will often find otoliths from small fish. But the big
fish, like cod that are 35 or 40 or 45 centimetres, often do not eat the heads.
And they will find otoliths from small species, like mackerels, herring, and so
on. But we must not forget that during the time the seal is eating, it is
killed, it is gutted and it is frozen, digestion continues. It digests very
There is probably no one here who has put their hands in a stomach as I have
sometimes done. It is very acidic, it burns your entire skin. The fish skin is
completely putrefied. It is so acidic that it is burned very rapidly. It is
often very difficult to determine the species, except within quite a short time,
three or four or five hours before it dies.
So this is very difficult. I know that when we talk about the science, the
time it takes to get the data. I work a lot with fishers in nearly all the
regions. We exchange information, we tell one another what is happening, and
where. It is very difficult to determine consumption by the grey seal.
To get data, there have to be data crosstabulated with other scientists,
there have to be a lot of other factors so that you will get relatively accurate
data. But it can never be 100 per cent accurate; that is impossible.
So it is by observation, by crosstabulated data, that we will be able to
determine a ratio, but it is not easy.
Senator Raine: I was asking the questions because we receive lots of
emails from animal rights people. They always say that the science is not clear
and that some scientists say the seals are not causing the stocks to decline, et
cetera. It has been good to hear from you people who are observers of what is
I want to take a completely different tack and ask how we could reduce the
herds? How would you go about it, because it is not that easy to kill seals?
Mr. Cyr: To kill harp seals, we work on the ice. It is hard to go
there because you have to sail through the ice, which is quite dangerous and
If we are talking about grey seals, the hung is much harder. It often takes
place on water, on small islands, like the one we saw earlier, like Corps-mort;
it is very small. You may get to a small island that may have 300 or 400 or
1,000 grey seals on it. The beach is full of seals, you cannot even see a grain
of sand or a rock.
But you just need to fire a single shot, land the dingy on the beach, and
they all get back into the water. You have to work on the land and on the water.
Sometimes you lose some because some thin seals will sink, particular in the
summer. At this time of year, they are fatter, so they float a little more. So
we always have to work around these events. Not one seal is going to put its
head above water; it is a little like a crocodile. You almost have to be a
sharpshooter to get them. You have to be a very good shot. So you never want to
put the worst shooter in the prow; you want to put the best one there.
All of it is very difficult. When we said earlier that 10,000 were killed in
a season, that is all regions together, not necessarily just the Magdalen
Islands, and per year.
That is why we have to start immediately. And I think that in places where
hunting is allowed, there will perhaps be a few less seals and that will give
the fish in those areas a chance. It is a lot more complicated than the harp
Senator Raine: Do you think it is possible?
Mr. Cyr: It is possible, but I think it is up to us to find specific
places and ways. All that has to be determined. In our area, we know the
specific places. Today, we are talking about specific places, but before, you
found grey seals on Corps-mort, on Île-Brion and some on Rocher-aux-Oiseaux.
Today, you find them on the beach at Pointe-de-l'Est, along the beaches on the
north shore of the islands, at Pointe-de-l'Ouest, and there are also some on Île
What sometimes worries me is seeing children walking along the beach or
swimming, and there are 700- or 800- pound grey seals right beside them. I think
how with one move they could catch a child.
These are things that can happen. There are people who have sent dogs into
the water with a dummy and the dogs did not come back, there was always a grey
seal that drew them out to sea. They had to take a boat out to look for the dog,
or they would have lost it. It was playing with it, but that is how it is.
Mr. Longuépée: In British Columbia, there was a child that was dragged
into the water by a sea-lion.
A young girl was playing close to her father on the dock. The seal grabbed
her. She was lucky because she had a life jacket on and she came back.
We do not talk about those problems to resolve our problem. We have a problem
to decrease the population. If you give us the opportunity, we will find a way
to do it; but we have to have you guys behind us. If the government is not
behind us, no one will believe what we are doing. We will be the barbarians
again. I went to Newfoundland and to British Columbia, where everyone is nice.
We are all nice across Canada; we are not barbarians. Welcome home.
Senator Raine: Thank you; we really appreciate your being here.
Mr. Cyr: Before concluding, I would like to tell you a little
I received a letter that came from the Daily Mirror. At the top, it
said ``The Rats Mifflin''— Mr. Mifflin was the Minister of Fisheries at the
time: ``Ghislain Cyr, the bad, was killing for fun.''
And a person living in England had sent a letter saying I was Hitler's
right-hand man. When we know what Canadians did for England at the time.
Mr. Thériault: The title of that article, which we still have at the
office, is ``The Good, the Bad and the Cuddly.''
The Chair: It has been an interesting couple of hours, and I thank you
for your presence. Certainly, you have added some great information to our
committee's findings. We are planning, if all goes well, to visit the Magdalen
Islands to hold a public hearing with some other groups that have expressed
interest in presenting to us. It is all part and parcel of our process.
We are hoping to have a preliminary report by June 2012, if not a final
report, to address the concerns that have been raised. We have heard from
several sides already and we look forward to hearing from everyone who has a
concern with this — good, bad or indifferent — at the present time. We are open
to all, and we look forward to that.
On behalf of the committee, thank you for travelling to Ottawa today to make
the presentation to us and to speak about your experiences. It is always good to
hear from someone who makes a living on the water.
Senator Patterson: Hear, hear. Thank you very much.
Mr. Longuépée: Thank you. Before you go, I want to explain to you why
I brought some food. I have a terrine. It is like a pâté of seal. We have two
kinds. This one is like rillettes. I do not know what you call that in English.
Mr. Thériault: Let the interpreter deal with that.
Mr. Longuépée: There is sausage, and we also have a smoked one. The
sausage is already cooked. You do not need to cook any of this; it is all
cooked. This one is almost like jerky.
Senator Patterson: Beef jerky.
Mr. Longuépée: That is what it is like.
Mr. Cyr: Are there any bears around?
The Chair: We will discover if it is meat or fish.
Mr. Cyr: Thank you, everyone. It was great for me to be able to
explain everything. If you have any questions, you can ask Mr. Longuépée or you
might find my email somewhere. I will be able, I hope, to give you the best
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Mr. Longuépée: Also, if someone wants to see the hunt of the harp seal
or grey seal, call us. It would be a pleasure to arrange everything for you. I
will not pay for your trip, but I invite you all. Do not worry; I will arrange
everything. You can get a licence to see the hunt. I am not afraid to show you
what we are doing; we are professional. However, people think what we show to
the people is not good. They prefer to see what the anti-sealers are showing. I
The Chair: We look forward to the opportunity. Thank you very much.
(The committee adjourned.)