Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Fisheries and Oceans
Issue 5 - Evidence - February 14, 2012
OTTAWA, Tuesday, February 14, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans met this day at
5:15 p.m. to study the management of the grey seal population off Canada's
Senator Fabian Manning (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the meeting of the Standing Senate Committee
on Fisheries and Oceans. My name is Fabian Manning. I am a senator from
Newfoundland and Labrador and I am the chair of this committee.
Before I introduce the witnesses before us, I would like to invite the
members of the committee to introduce themselves, starting with the senator
to my right.
Senator MacDonald: Michael MacDonald, from Nova Scotia, Cape
Senator Hubley: Elizabeth Hubley, senator from P.E.I.
Senator Poy: Vivienne Poy, from Toronto.
Senator Cochrane: I am Ethel Cochrane, and I am from Newfoundland
Senator Raine: I am Senator Greene Raine, from British Columbia.
Senator Poirier: Rose-May Poirier, from New Brunswick.
Senator Harb: Mac Harb, from Ontario.
The Chair: The committee is continuing its study on the management
of the grey seal population off Canada's East Coast and we are hearing today
from Dr. David Lavigne, Science Advisor with the International Fund for
Dr. Lavigne, welcome to our meeting. We are delighted to have you here.
My understanding is you have some opening remarks that you would like to
make first and then we will open up the meeting to questions from our
committee members. We look forward to hearing from you. The floor is yours.
David M. Lavigne, Science Advisor, International Fund for Animal
Welfare: Mr. Chair, members of the committee, members of the gallery,
first, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. If there is
a short title to my talk, it will be "Grey Seals, Cod and Culling."
Let me begin by saying that debates over culling seals, and indeed other
wildlife populations, like all debates in modern conservation, are not
fundamentally about science or facts. Rather, they are debates arising from
differing attitudes, values, and societal objectives, and differing views
about what is right and wrong.
The ongoing debate about culling grey seals is typical. It is not, in my
opinion, a scientific debate. It is essentially a small "p" political
debate, with ethical overtones and, as in any political debate, scientific
data, and the so-called "facts" as we currently understand them, often
become misrepresented, misquoted or fabricated by some of the participants
in the debate.
When both values and facts are in conflict — and that is certainly the
case when it comes to grey seals, cod and culling — we are faced with what
has been termed a "cultural conflict." Such conflicts are never ending and
are impossible to resolve unless you can find some common agreement — either
on the values or on the facts — which, if nothing else, explains why the
culling debate simply will not go away and why, for example, some fishers
continue to kill highly endangered monk seals in the Mediterranean Sea. They
still believe the 300 or so remaining animals are eating all the fish.
While the decision to cull or not to cull is a political choice, it is
the role of science and scientists to inform the debate, educate the public,
illuminate the political choices, and provide options for policy-makers.
In that spirit, I would like to spend a few minutes today discussing what
we actually know and do not know about grey seals and fisheries,
particularly cod, and what science and the lessons of history tell us about
As you are well aware, there have been a number of recent proposals to
cull grey seals in Eastern Canada. Background to the most recent ones is
provided in an open letter I co-authored to the Minister of Fisheries in
September 2011, which I believe you have received earlier. Suffice it to say
that the scientific consultative process preceding these proposals was badly
flawed. It began in 2009, with the Minister of Fisheries directing the
Department of Fisheries and Oceans to "ensure the targeted removal" — the
translation of which means "cull" — "of grey seals that are preying on
southern Gulf cod." Following this ministerial direction, DFO then
organized a Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat workshop in October 2010
to consider the impacts of grey seals on fisheries.
At that workshop, a major problem arose because the participating
scientists, myself included, were asked to examine only the negative impacts
of grey seals on cod and a few other fish species. It is nothing more than a
self- fulfilling prophesy, therefore, that the Science Advisory Report, or
SAR, arising from that workshop concluded that grey seals have a negative
impact on cod.
Entirely neglected during the DFO workshop were any positive impacts that
predators like grey seals have on marine ecosystems, a point already raised
in your committee by Senator Harb. Positive impacts of predators — often
referred to in the scientific literature as "beneficial predation" — are
well documented in the scientific literature. For example, predators,
including grey seals, play a role in the structuring and stabilizing of
marine ecosystems. Scientists have known for decades that if predators are
removed, the ecosystem changes, sometimes in ways that are neither
anticipated nor desired. The effects of predator removal can reverberate
throughout the system, resulting in what scientists call "trophic
cascades." Solely from a utilitarian perspective, the very existence of
predators can actually provide benefits to preferred fish stocks and the
fisheries that are supported by them.
Although I am critical of how DFO conducted its workshop and how that
workshop report has been represented by some DFO officials — and by the now
disbanded Fisheries Research Conservation Council, the FRCC — the SAR
nonetheless contains some information with which I agree.
For example, contrary to the pleadings in the FRCC report, the
implementation of a grey seal cull represents the antithesis of a
precautionary management approach. It is well documented in the scientific
literature that a grey seal cull could produce a number of unintended
consequences. The SAR correctly speaks to this uncertainty, saying
"although widely practised, the extent of seal population reduction and the
response of targeted prey populations to culls have rarely been evaluated,
such that their effectiveness is poorly understood." Further, results from
other predator-control programs indicate that unintended consequences in
food webs — including the trophic cascades that I mentioned earlier — are
nonetheless commonly observed and will be difficult, if not impossible, to
predict in advance of a cull.
The SAR continues:
Any intervention in the southern Gulf would first require a thorough
investigation of the likely multi-species impacts of a cod-seal
interaction in this ecosystem, and second would require a carefully
designed program that would include clearly-stated objectives and
rigorous monitoring of the seal and cod populations and the ecosystem to
evaluate its consequences.
To this point in time, the investigation of multi-species impacts has not
been undertaken, nor has a program been designed that includes clearly
stated objectives and a feasible way of monitoring seals, cod and other
ecosystem components. Needless to say, it will require considerable time and
budget to conduct a proper scientific assessment of any proposal to cull
grey seals before worrying about how to design a cull and monitor its
consequences, if such a proposal were ever to be implemented.
For the fisheries minister and the Government of Canada, the question
today is whether or not to implement the various recommendations to cull
grey seals. For his part, the Minister of Fisheries has already been quoted
in the press as saying that proposals to cull grey seals are based on
science. While clearly bits and pieces of the science can be selected to
support a grey seal cull, when all the scientific evidence is considered,
any apparent support vanishes.
The reasons for my conclusion are as follows: First, grey seals have
undoubtedly increased in recent decades as they recover from near
extirpation in the late 1940s. I must point out that in some circles this
recovery is actually regarded as a Canadian conservation success story.
Cod populations off Eastern Canada were seriously depleted by overfishing
in the late 1960s, and further in the mid to late 1980s, which resulted in
the imposition of a moratorium on the cod fishery in 1992.
Since then, I think we can agree, cod populations have been slow to
recover, but a number of stocks are now showing positive signs of recovery,
even in the presence of a number of seal species. Nonetheless, the question
remains whether their recovery has been or is being impeded by seals, in
particular by grey seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the Eastern
Recently, much scientific attention has been directed to the issue of
grey seals and cod. Most of the resulting papers conclude that grey seals
have little impact on cod stocks. A recent manuscript suggests, however,
that "seals have contributed to both natural mortality increase and lack of
cod stock recovery." That claim has been widely publicized in the press,
most recently, I believe, yesterday. What the media has not reported is that
the "model predictions [in that paper] are not consistent with the recent
observed cod increase in trawl surveys." That is basically a quote from the
very paper itself.
This admission by the authors, O'Boyle and Sinclair, seems to suggest
that there may be problems with the modelling. Instead, in one place the
authors suggest that the observations, rather than their models, "need to
be confirmed." I have to say that this is not the way science is normally
conducted, but I also have to say that elsewhere in their paper the authors
are more circumspect.
Regardless, taken at face value, the conflicting scientific results
highlighted by the DFO SAR and the O'Boyle and Sinclair manuscript simply
remind us that marine systems and interactions between seals and fisheries
are complex and difficult to study. As always, there is scientific
uncertainty in the data and analyses associated with trying to figure out
what has really been going on with grey seals and cod, and how that
relationship will unfold in the future.
Of course, as soon as one mentions the future, I am reminded that we are
in the midst of a period of environmental uncertainty — resulting from
climate change and global warming — and that is already having an impact on
ice- breeding seals across the North Atlantic. Some grey seals reproduce on
ice, and if that ice fails to form in the coming years, it may have
implications for them as well. To the uncertainties mentioned previously, we
must therefore add environmental uncertainty.
All of this uncertainty has not resulted in any noticeable abatement in
calls for undertaking a massive cull of grey seals. Nonetheless, undertaking
a cull of grey seals at this time is a risky business. Scientists have
repeatedly said over the past three decades that it is impossible to predict
the effects of either increasing or decreasing the size of a seal population
on exploited fish stocks and fishery yields from them. More uncertainty.
After more than 30 years of trying to understand the impacts of culling
seals, it would be fair to ask why the scientists still cannot provide
definitive answers. Of course, the answer to that question brings us back to
the issue of complexity.
As noted previously, scientists — including DFO scientists — have also
warned that culls can have unintended consequences. Science tells us, for
example, that culling a predator like grey seals could actually result in a
reduction of preferred fish stocks, the antithesis of the intended outcome.
It all depends on the complex — that word again — interactions in a
particular marine ecosystem.
All of the uncertainty associated with the interactions between grey
seals and cod, environmental change and the various uncertainties associated
with culling, call for a rigorous application of the precautionary approach.
Taken in the aggregate, the scientific information currently available
does not allow us to reject the hypothesis that seals generally, and grey
seals in particular, are not impeding the recovery of cod and other
groundfish stocks, nor does it allow us to reject the hypothesis that a
massive grey seal cull could be detrimental not only to grey seals but to
the ecosystem and to the interests of commercial fisheries.
Finally, I note again that current proposals to cull grey seals are just
the latest in a series of similar proposals and recommendations spanning the
last three decades, most notably a recommendation from the Royal Commission
on Seals and Sealing in the mid-1980s. In the past, following some sober
second thought, a succession of fisheries ministers has rejected previous
culls for culling grey seals. Why? It was because they were not adequately
supported by the science. We are in exactly the same position today. The
body of scientific evidence simply does not support or justify a decision to
cull tens of thousands of grey seals off the East Coast of Canada.
Aside from being a profoundly risky and expensive undertaking, a grey
seal cull, if it were to proceed, would undoubtedly raise serious animal
welfare issues as well. In particular, some animals would be shot in the
water, and every veterinary panel that has looked at killing methods for
seals has recommended that such practice be banned because it is inherently
If the scientific evidence is not sufficient for you to reject a call for
a massive grey seal cull, then I would suggest that there are ethical
considerations to think of as well. As one DFO scientist commented following
the DFO workshop, there is "a general principle the meeting never addressed:
How certain do we have to be before asking other intelligent beings to die
for our beliefs?"
In closing, I would like to say that over the past few months you have
heard a variety of opinions reflecting different attitudes, values and
objectives about grey seals, cod and culling. You have heard and will
continue to hear some quite different interpretations, misinterpretations
and misrepresentations of the available science. I would therefore simply
ask that if you have any questions about my presentation or any of the other
presentations you have received, seek clarification, examine the source
material, talk to independent scientists and attempt to verify, to the
extent possible, the information presented to you before coming to any firm
Thank you for your attention.
Senator Harb: Very well done. Finally one witness who got it.
The Chair: We have been joined by Senator Hervieux-Payette from
Quebec and Senator Donald Oliver from Nova Scotia. I think everyone else has
Thank you, Dr. Lavigne, for your presentation. As usual, we will go to
the deputy chair of our committee for the first question.
Senator Hubley: Thank you for your presentation.
The grey seal population in Eastern Canada increased 30-fold over the
past half a century, from approximately 13,000 animals in 1960, as you
mentioned, to some 400,000 animals today. That is a huge increase in any
species, I would say, and in order for those animals to increase and prosper
they need a food source. In the research that you have done, have you been
able to justify why there has been such a massive increase in the seal
population? Can you point to the food source that might be responsible for
supporting some of those massive herds of the grey seals on the East Coast?
Further to that, you referred in your presentation to culling, in every
instance, I believe, and we have heard from fishermen who are not as
interested in the cull, which seems to be somewhat of an antiquated or older
idea, but looking at the grey seal as a resource and developing that
resource so that the herds could be managed in a sustainable manner. Could
you comment on that for me, please?
Mr. Lavigne: You asked about the increase in grey seals. Many
years ago, I took a look at the history of what we know about grey seals and
found reports in the late 1940s that suggested the grey seal might in fact
have been wiped out of Eastern Canada. That is how low it was. Eventually, a
few grey seals were seen. This is a species that, in fact, was hunted
hundreds of years ago for oil. In other words, it was fairly abundant. We
almost wiped them out and, in the intervening years, they have shown a
remarkable recovery, which I referred to in my presentation. A similar
example, which is celebrated in the United States, is the northern elephant
seal, which was reduced to 20 or 30 or 100 individuals and has recovered to
a rather large size.
Of course, you are correct. In order for a population to increase, it has
to eat food. Seals, by and large, eat a wide variety of organisms. The
principle prey of grey seals, for example, to anticipate a question perhaps,
is not cod but perhaps fattier fish like sand lance and numerous other prey
species. What we do know about seals is that they tend to exhibit something
we scientists call density-dependent effects. In other words, they tend to
be somewhat self-regulating. The things we think limit seals are habitat
availability and food availability. You need both, especially seals, which
have to return to land to reproduce. Clearly, these recovering grey seals
found adequate habitat for reproduction on land and adequate prey in the
ocean in order to accomplish this population increase. However, because of
density- dependent responses, we would predict that, as habitat runs out
and/or food becomes in shorter supply, mechanisms that we understand
reasonably well begin to kick in and we would expect the population to
Over the last few years, I have heard from my colleagues that there is
some evidence now that the grey seal population may in fact be beginning to
stabilize. This is what you would predict from theory and past experience.
We may see in the next few years a stabilization of that population as it
comes into some equilibrium with its current food base or the availability
of habitat for reproduction.
That is two of your issues. They eat a wide variety of prey species, and
there is a fairly good literature on the feeding habits of grey seals.
Senator Hubley: What species are they eating besides the cod? We
have heard evidence that that on their diet.
Mr. Lavigne: Yes, they do eat cod.
Senator Hubley: There is also groundfish and shellfish, which are
again challenging some of the fishing industries that we have in Atlantic
Canada. How do you square that, sir?
Mr. Lavigne: Yes, they do eat all the things that you have
mentioned, herring and God knows what else that comes across their paths.
I do not know of any examples where it can be said with any certainty
that the seals are necessarily having a negative impact on what is available
to fishermen. There certainly is no evidence that a reduction in the grey
seal population would necessarily mean more fish in the nets of fishermen.
One of the things that happen when you remove a top level predator is
that other predators move in to fill the void before the fishery gets a
chance to catch the so-called released prey. Those are the sorts of things
that scientists simply cannot predict. It is that sort of logic that leads
to the conclusion that a cull of grey seals might not necessarily result
directly in a gain for fishermen. On the other hand, depending on the
feeding relationships, a cull of grey seals could actually be detrimental to
the interests of certain fishermen.
We have been debating how to you explain the real problem. I go back to a
figure that we made many years ago. It does not matter that you cannot read
it. This is a simplified food web for the northwest Atlantic Ocean. When we
talk about culling grey seals — and grey seals are this little box here that
I tried to highlight in yellow; cod are here — to benefit the cod fisheries,
we are saying that we can actually tweak one box in this whole scheme and
actually predict with any certainty what will happen in this box. I do not
know about you but I cannot imagine how that could possibly happen. I
emphasize that this is a simplified food web for the northwest Atlantic.
That is what we are up against.
You also asked about the grey seal as a resource. About 200 or 300 years
ago, the grey seal was hunted as a source of oil. It was hunted to low
levels and then the hunt shifted to harp and hooded seals. As the years went
by, and with the discovery of oil and natural gas, the interest shifted more
to furs rather than oil. In the last 100 years, I am not aware of any real
markets for grey seal products. The products that come from harp seals, and
particularly hooded seals, seem to be more desirable to the market than grey
When you asked this question that you just asked in 2012, there seems to
be — and lots of people are saying this — a lack of markets for the
preferred products like harp and hooded seals. It seems unlikely to me that
a less preferred product, like a grey seal, would be a very firm basis for
an industry at this point in time. The markets are not there for the
preferred species. It seems like a really bad time in history to think about
trying to market grey seal products when people do not even want harp seal
Senator Poirier: I have three questions. If you will put me on for
round two, I will have a couple more after that.
First, thank you for the presentation. In your letter to Minister
Ashfield, you indicated your opposition to the proposed seal cull. As a
general principle, does the International Fund for Animal Welfare oppose all
types of culls of wildlife resources, for example moose or deer, or does the
culling of grey seals represent a special case and, if so, why?
Mr. Lavigne: All cases of culling are so-called "special cases."
When you are talking about deer, you are talking about herbivore in a
terrestrial environment versus a marine mammal in a marine environment. Each
case must be evaluated on its own merits.
I recently looked at a proposal to cull some deer near Hamilton, Ontario.
I do not think the science behind that proposal was very strong and I would
make a similar argument that I have made here.
As to IFAW's position, I think the organization's position is that as an
animal welfare organization, it would always look to alternatives to culling
in an attempt to achieve objectives before even considering a proposal to
One of the papers that I referenced in my presentation is a protocol for
the scientific evaluation of proposals to cull, in this case, marine
mammals. Similar protocols have been proposed for terrestrial situations as
If you want to answer the question on a purely scientific basis,
scientists know how and they know the kinds of questions that need to be
asked. They know what needs to be done to make a proper assessment. One of
the problems is that those sorts of assessments are almost never done in the
terrestrial environment or in the marine environment.
Generally, I would say the organization is opposed to culling, but it
considers each case based on its own merits.
Senator Poirier: You indicated in your letter that in the absence
of the market for grey seal product, the proposed seal cull is a waste of
resources. Does this imply that if there was a large market for grey seal
product, you would support the management of grey seal populations?
Mr. Lavigne: You raise a number of interesting issues there.
IFAW, as an organization, is opposed to the commercial exploitation of
wildlife, which in fact has a long tradition in North America.
One of the great successes of North American wildlife management is that
we banned the commercial hunting of wildlife in the early decades of the
twentieth century, which allowed all sorts of species to recover because we
were losing our wildlife heritage in North America at the end of the
We often talk colloquially about managing wildlife populations. There is
a nice body of scientific literature that points out that we cannot manage
natural systems. Boy, we have lots of evidence. We were not able to manage
our cod fishery, as a good example. We cannot manage this. If you look at
what we actually manage in wildlife and fishery management, it is not the
wildlife but human behaviour. We set quotas for humans. We establish opening
and closing days of hunts for humans. We do not manage the populations. What
we actually manage or try to manage is human behaviour.
When we think about managing a grey seal population or a deer population,
it is very difficult. These animals are living in the wild in complex
systems, and it is very hard to conceive of how to manage any individual
This debate has come to the fore in recent years because for many years
we talked about single species management; we will manage white tail deer,
cod and other things. What we were struck with after decades of this was a
management failure. People started to say, "We have to do things
differently." We then started talking about ecosystem management. If we
cannot manage a single species, we sure as heck cannot manage an entire or
even a simplified ecosystem. We now tend to talk about ecosystem-based
management. In other words, we have to take into account not just the
species we are interested in but other components in the ecosystem because
they all interact, often in ways that we do not really understand.
Senator Poirier: Basically, on your website your organization
states "working to shut down markets for seal products." The stance on
your website appears to go further than your letter to the minister,
Do you view that the reasoning of these two positions is being circular?
To rephrase: Your concerns to the minister were related to insufficient
market demands. However, it appears that your organization is also trying to
actively reduce the market demand. Can you please comment?
Mr. Lavigne: Yes, as I said earlier, IAFW is opposed to commercial
exploitation of wildlife because it almost invariably leads to the depletion
of wildlife species. It is not just species like seals. If you look at the
state of world fisheries, those are wildlife species that are commercially
exploited and they are in a heck of a mess. Seventy-five per cent of world
fisheries are either over-exploited or fully exploited or were two or three
years ago. Commercial exploitation tends to lead to the depletion of
I have written extensively on this in the literature, as have many other
biologists. In the use of animals in North American society, large mammals
and the like, we allowed personal use hunting or recreational hunting,
whatever you want to call it, and that has proven to be a somewhat
sustainable activity for many species in contrast to commercial
exploitation, which is very difficult to sustain. Depending on the
biological characteristics of the animals, you can find a few apparent
exceptions. That is why we are losing tigers, that is why we are losing
rhinos, that is why we are losing elephants, and that is why we got into
trouble with the great whales a couple of decades ago, because commercial
exploitation was reducing populations to very low levels.
Commercial exploitation, by and large, is not a good thing for wildlife
or, indeed, for old growth forests. There is a wide literature on that,
which I would be happy to supply you with.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: Welcome, Mr. Lavigne. Do you understand
French, with a name like that?
Mr. Lavigne: No.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: There are a lot of Lavignes in Quebec.
We even used to have a senator Lavigne.
Mr. Lavigne: It was New Brunswick actually, and I had the
misfortune or fortune of growing up in Ontario at a time when the
educational system was highly deficient in French. I am pleased to say that
all three of my daughters can speak French and one of them is a French
teacher, so although I have not lived up to the family name, the next
generation is doing its best, with my support.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: I would have another personal question
for you. A lot of IFAW members are vegetarian. Are you?
Mr. Lavigne: No, I am not.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: I come from Quebec. I am obviously in
support of a controlled seal hunt. The government is doing tremendous work
in that area.
You talk about two things: population control and commercial
exploitation. It seems to me that those are two contradictory terms. The
word "exploitation," to begin with, does not always necessarily have a
positive connotation. Are you therefore opposed to intervention by the
government which, in whatever the field may be, as natural resource
regulator, seeks to control?
Mr. Lavigne: Personally, my position on that would be that the
decision to be a controller or a regulator is a value judgment or a choice
reflecting the pursuit of a specific objective. What I have been arguing and
will continue to argue is that such controls are not dictated by or even
often supported by the available scientific information.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: For example, every year, in Quebec, deer
hunting is authorized on Anticosti Island, but with a set cull number, the
simple reason being that all of the animals would die if they were just
allowed to go on reproducing within such a confined geographic area. Are you
in agreement with that kind of control, whereby the government intervenes so
as to allow a wildlife population to continue to survive within the
environment at its disposal?
Mr. Lavigne: You are raising an interesting and complicated issue.
The biologist in me would argue that if you left the deer alone they would
eventually stabilize, and there are many examples of that.
The fact that we as Canadians allow sport hunting, I suggest we do that
for reasons really other than control. As I said earlier, there is a huge
difference between what we call recreational, personal use or sport hunting
and commercial hunting. Yes, we have chosen in this country over the last
100 years or so to allow these recreational hunts of various animals and
because the animals are not allowed to be put into the marketplace,
generally, these things have proven to be sustainable.
The decision to allow recreational hunting is a choice. It is not
dictated by any scientific considerations. It is a choice that we make. It
is a value that many Canadians think is important and so we allow that to
Senator Hervieux-Payette: On page 5, in the English version of
your presentation, you talk about removing predators. To your knowledge, do
seals have predators? What are these predators? What is the regulating
element? What other animal would regulate the population in the absence of
Mr. Lavigne: As I mentioned in answer to another question, yes,
seals do have predators, including things like polar bears in the North
because harp seals, for example, migrate north. Polar bears used to be on
the north shore of the St. Lawrence River but we got rid of them.
Killer whales and sharks also eat seals, so there is some predation on
seal populations. However, I think the major regulatory factor would be
these density dependent responses. Seals will be limited by the availability
of breeding habitat and the availability of food, but a certain number of
them do get eaten every year by predators of varying kinds.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: At the end of your presentation, you ask
how certain do we have to be before asking other intelligent beings to die
for our beliefs. What are we talking about when we talk about intelligent
beings? Are we talking about human beings or animals?
Mr. Lavigne: First, let me remind you that that was a quote from a
DFO scientist. Those were not my words, but I do not disagree with them.
The intelligent, sentient beings he was referring to in his quote were
Senator Hervieux-Payette: Therefore, the intelligent beings are
Mr. Lavigne: In this particular quotation, the animals being
culled are seals. He used the words "intelligent beings," but I might use
the words "sentient beings." The point is that we are killing higher
mammals and, especially these days, there are increasingly ethical concerns
about how we treat other species with whom we share the planet.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: As far as Magdalen Islanders are
concerned, in other words the majority of seal hunters in Quebec, it is not
the worrisome matter of the cod that concerns them, but rather their way of
life and their livelihood. If fishing is allowed, they fail to see why a
seal cull would not be allowed. It is a matter of survival for the residents
of coastal regions, be they in Newfoundland or in Quebec. These people rely
on this activity for their livelihood, and I do not understand why, if one
applies the same logic, we should not completely prohibit fishing, which
entails people removing living creatures from nature and eating them or else
using them for some other purpose. Two ends are being served: food is being
supplied for human consumption and people are provided a way to earn a
Based upon what philosophy can one say that in one case the practice is
ethical, and that in the other it is not? I have looked at this from every
which way, but to my mind, these are animals, under human management; we
must indeed respect these animals and maintain those herds entrusted to us,
but I also believe that we have the right to draw from these herds, for
human purposes, certain quantities of animals, without destroying the
species and even guaranteeing its survival.
Mr. Lavigne: In general terms, much of what you said fits into
what I said initially: Various attitudes, values and objectives exist in
society. We have had those debates, and some of them have been resolved. The
majority of modern society accepts fishing as an activity; that debate has
been resolved. However, there is one caution, since we are talking about
grey seals, cod and culling. The caution that I tried to put on the table
today is that a cull of grey seals might turn out to be detrimental to the
interests of those very fishers that you are concerned about. That is the
scientific concern because of the unintended consequences that invariably
crop up when we cull wild populations. We are talking about a fairly
significant cull when we are talking about the numbers I have seen, and you
have probably seen them too, that range from 70,000 to 220,000 animals. We
could end up causing additional problems, as we humans often do in the
natural world. We might end up causing more problems for fishermen.
I remind you that only one country has evaluated a call for culling seals
in a somewhat modern way: South Africa. The government of South Africa
wanted to cull its Cape fur seal population because people thought that the
Cape fur seals were damaging the hake fishery. As you can imagine, there was
quite an outcry. They convened a workshop of scientists from all over the
world to look at the problems. The scientists, as they are wont to do, made
umpteen recommendations and went home. South Africa fooled everyone because
two years later, they came back and said, "We have gone through all of
these recommendations one by one, and we have done the best analysis we can.
We want to return our analyses to a group of scientists to see what you
think."They found was that a cull of Cape fur seals might have some
marginal benefit for the fishery, much smaller than anyone had anticipated,
but more likely would have a detrimental impact on the target hake fishery.
I was one of the scientists called back to evaluate their work. The group
that I was involved with could not find any major problems with what they
had done, and the South African government said, "We have a policy. We are
going to base our decisions on science, and if the science says we are not
going to reap great gains by culling fur seals, we are not going to cull
them." They stopped all calls for culling around 1991 or 1992. To this day,
the moratorium on culling Cape fur seals in South Africa remains in place
simply because they did not want to risk doing further harm to their hake
Senator Poy: Dr. Lavigne, you mentioned in your presentation that
you are against commercial exploitation of wildlife. Is commercial fishing
acceptable to you? There is no other way we can get fish for human
Mr. Lavigne: As I said in answer to the previous question, society
has had that debate and decided that we will remove fish from the ocean and
sell them to feed the world. That debate has been had. One of my favourite
examples of the effects of commercial exploitation is the gross depletion of
world fish stocks; and for a scientist, that is another issue. However, it
is a choice that society has made; and I am not arguing against that.
We seem to be depending now on aquaculture, which makes no sense
energy-wise and makes no sense if we do it in natural ecosystems. It makes
no sense because we are destroying natural ecosystems and having deleterious
impacts on wild populations. These are all complicated questions, but we are
not here to debate whether we are going to commercial fish. We fish
commercially, and we will continue to do so. That is a value judgment that
we have made and accepted. The scientist in me would say that what we really
need to do is make those commercial fisheries sustainable.
Senator Poy: I will play the devil's advocate and extend that to
grey seals. What if society decides to hunt the grey seals and use the oil,
the flesh and the pelt, et cetera? Do you think that would be acceptable?
Mr. Lavigne: To whom?
Senator Poy: To you. Let us start with you, because you have
accepted commercial fishing.
Mr. Lavigne: The world has accepted fisheries. We are moving from
fish to a sentient mammal, which is a different animal. I have already said
that I think it is an inopportune time to start marketing grey seals when we
cannot sell the products from the preferred seal species, which for the last
few hundred years have been harp seals and to some extent hooded seals.
If you go to the Arctic, for example, just to show you that people do
distinguish, Inuit refer to the ringed seal as "the seal." In my
experience, now a few decades old, the Inuit do not tend to eat harp seal,
because they eat "the seal," and in fact ringed seal is one of the things
that Inuit will eat raw.
In the south, I know folks in the Magdalen Islands and in Newfoundland
who eat seal flipper pie, but it is harp seal, not grey seal. The pragmatist
in me says: Who is it who wants to eat grey seal or wear grey seal? There is
no shortage, or has not been in recent decades, of dead harp seals. Although
the government has tried to implement a total-use policy, that has failed
because they cannot get rid of the product. Therefore, to add yet another
species makes no sense to me.
Senator Poy: I understand that. You also said that you believe, or
your organization believes, that wildlife population will, in time,
Mr. Lavigne: That is what the science would say, yes.
Senator Poy: What if it does not? What do you think the scientists
will say as an alternative? One of the witnesses we heard talked about birth
control for seals. Can you please tell me your opinion on that?
Mr. Lavigne: As your witness may have told you, Canada invested a
large amount of money in developing birth- control bullets for grey seals
and others. This debate we are having here, or this discussion, has been
going on for 30 years, at least, in my career, and they spent a lot of money
on birth control. You see similar proposals for elephants that are
restricted in parks in Africa. Of course, that is always an option. I
believe there was some evidence, if I remember correctly, that these
birth-control bullets showed some promise for grey seals. They were never
implemented, for reasons that I do not know. We have had this discussion
primarily over elephants. If the debate is about going out and slaughtering
elephants in a cull or using birth control as an option, obviously birth
control is a less invasive approach than shooting the animal.
Senator Harb: Thank you very much for your presentation.
You brought up some very important points, in particular, the fact that
we should not only look at the negative impact of the grey seal on the fish
stock, but we should also look at the positive impact of the grey seal. I am
not sure whether or not this committee will consider that. I hope we will.
I want to ask you a question with regard to a recent study that was done
by the Royal Society of Canada. They had an expert panel that was chaired by
Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings. They released a report earlier this month on
sustaining Canada's marine biodiversity. The society made a number of
recommendations, some very damning. Without pre- empting your response, I
want to first ask you whether you are aware of this study; and second, your
thoughts on it, if you have had a chance to look at it.
Mr. Lavigne: Yes, I am aware of the study. I have digested the
executive summary. I have read several interviews with the committee chair,
Dr. Jeff Hutchings, from Dalhousie University. Yes, I am aware of it and I
have formulated some impressions.
If you want to know what my impressions are, it has been recognized, and
it is written up in the academic literature, that there have been serious
problems with how Canada has approached fisheries in recent years. At one
time, when I started my career, when we had the Fisheries Research Board of
Canada, Canada was one of the most respected countries in fisheries science,
and I do not think that pertains today.
Hutchings and others have written for a number of years now — and I have
written on the topic a bit as well — that we have a problem. We have several
problems, not the least of which is the fact that government science is not
sufficiently separate from the political arm, and some scientists and others
have made the recommendation that what we really need to do is separate the
science from politics. In that way, the scientists can be free to offer
their scientific advice and then the government can be free — because it has
to consider other things as well, of course — to make its choice without
influencing the nature of the scientific advice, which is a luxury I have.
One of the reasons why my job title is called "science adviser" is that I
give my advice to the organization. They can take it or leave it, with no
hard feelings, because they have other things to think about as well.
The suggestion has been made that we separate the political arm from the
scientific arm so that the science is free to act. I have said publicly, in
many spheres, that Canadian government scientists cannot act as scientists.
I have seen the same thing in parts of U.S. and in the U.K. It got so bad —
I guess it was in the late 1990s or something — that I said the term
"government scientist" was an oxymoron, because government scientists were
not free to act as scientists. They could not freely exchange information.
They were told when they could and could not speak. We have had all sorts of
discussions in this country about gagging scientists, and Americans have
done the same thing. People get fired because they come out with scientific
advice that is contrary to government policy. George Bush went as far as to
characterize good science and bad science. You know what the definition of
good science was. Good science is science that agrees with government
policy; bad science is science that does not agree with it. That is what we
The other problem, and correct me if I am wrong, but I think the Royal
Society committee picked up on another theme that has been around for a
while. First, the Minister of Fisheries in this country seems to have a fair
bit of power to make decisions arbitrarily. I think that was one of the
things they keyed in on.
The other point is that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans — and even
the royal commission picked up on this — is in a conflict of interest
position. It is there to serve a client — namely, fishermen and the fishing
industry — while at the same time it has responsibility for protecting and
conserving what they would call the resource, which I would call the
wildlife, or the animals. That is a conflict. In this country, that conflict
is so bad that marine mammals, in 2012, are still classified as fish in this
country. They are not fish; they are marine mammals. They are mammals. The
royal commission, back in the 1980s, said that if nothing else, we need to
separate the marine mammals out from the fish, because they are different on
a whole variety of levels.
From what I have seen of the Royal Society report, I think it is
something this committee should take a serious look at. I think there is a
lot of supporting evidence in the literature that I am aware of. Some of the
problems are not unique to Canada, but there is a problem, and you just have
to look at the state of world fisheries to know that there is a problem.
Senator Harb: They support exactly what your presentation was all
about and the fact that the overfishing is really what is killing the
industries and not the grey seals. It is a fact that we have people fishing
off the shores of Canada, as well as the fact that the fishery should not
have been opened at the time it was. It was a little premature, and they
My final question to you deals with the whole notion that people seem to
think that your organization is against natives hunting in order to sustain
their communities and way of life. While you are answering that, tell me
whether someone in Atlantic Canada going out and hunting for his or her
family is objectionable to your organization.
Mr. Lavigne: There are two questions. The first deals with Inuit
hunting. IFAW and many other organizations have written policies that say we
are not opposed to subsistence hunting by First Nations people, period. It
is not an issue that we get involved in. You can discuss various things
about that hunt, but we simply accept the right of native people to carry
on. That is the first point.
The second point, basically you are talking about coastal people going
out and killing a seal to put in the freezer. Again, it is not for the
marketplace. This is the distinction you have to make wherever you are in
the world. There is a huge difference in its impact on wildlife, hunting for
personal use and hunting for the marketplace.
IFAW is opposed to the commercial hunting of wildlife. Canada was one of
the leaders in the early days of the 20th century in driving home that
message, along with Theodore Roosevelt in the United States. It is the
foundation upon which North American wildlife management is based.
I was pleased to see in some of the minutes, and I think in your words
today, IFAW is an animal welfare organization, not an animal rights or
anti-hunting organization. There are huge differences between animal rights
and animal welfare. We are not a non-use organization. We think that animals
should not be treated — and we use the word "inhumanely." We should avoid
unnecessary pain and suffering in all animals.
That said, no, we are not opposed to Inuit subsistence hunting. In fact,
we supported the notion in the European Union that Inuit products be
exempted from their import ban. I cannot speak for the organization, but I
cannot see that anyone will get very upset, and what would it matter if we
did? Coastal people will go out and take a seal for the pot in the same way
that someone in Northern Canada will go out and shoot a deer or a moose to
put in their freezer.
Senator Raine: Thank you. This has been most interesting.
A couple of questions came up during your presentation. First, you said
that since then cod populations have been slow to recover, but a number of
stocks are now showing positive signs of recovery, even in the presence of a
number of seal species. What exactly are they?
Mr. Lavigne: We have essentially two resident coastal seal species
in the south: grey seals and harbour seals. Then we have the migrants that
come in. Harp and hooded seals are the migratory species that spend the
winter down here, where they reproduce and then go north for the summer.
They are in these ecosystems for part of the year.
Senator Oliver: That was not her question.
Mr. Lavigne: She wanted to know the species, did she not?
Senator Raine: I wanted to know which stock species are now
showing positive signs of recovery, even in the presence of a number of seal
Mr. Lavigne: I thought you asked about the seal species. What page
are you on?
Senator Raine: You must know. We are very concerned because we
feel that grey seals are overpopulated, probably because of a lack of
predation. The cascade effect you talk about on other species is, in fact,
showing itself up in the cascade effect of the grey seals being out of
control because their predators are not doing the job.
Now you are saying that there are fish stocks that are recovering even
though the seals are not there. We do not see that.
Mr. Lavigne: The seals are there and the cod stocks are
increasing. This paper that is now being discussed in the media, the paper
that seals are having an impact on cod mortality, one of the problems with
the model, as I mentioned, is that it does not in fact track the evidence
that the cod populations in the study area are actually on the increase,
despite the fact that you have this huge grey seal population.
Senator Raine: We have heard a lot of evidence to date in this
committee that the cod stocks are being impacted by the great number of grey
seals, from 13,000 to 400,000 —
Mr. Lavigne: Right, I know.
Senator Raine: — in a short time. It does not make sense that they
are not going out and eating a lot of fish.
Mr. Lavigne: They are eating things. I do not deny that. What I
point out is that you can go to the scientific literature and find the
papers. If you could tell me what page you are on, I will give you to the
Senator Raine: Page 9.
Mr. Lavigne: For example, on the Grand Banks cod stocks grew 69
per cent since 2007. That is the best-kept secret in this country. It was
never mentioned at the DFO workshop. If you look at the O'Boyle paper, this
is in the literature. That is why I say go talk to the fisheries scientists.
Get some fisheries scientists in here. Even then, you cannot confine
yourselves just to grey seals and cod. They are living in a more complicated
Here I have given you four different examples, four different sources:
Summer Scotian Shelf, Bay of Fundy Vessel Survey, Grand Banks. One of the
things that is mystifying is that although we have this huge population of
grey seals on Sable Island, the cod in that area are better off than cod in
some areas where there are not many grey seals. How do you explain that? I
cannot explain it, but that is what the science says.
What I am saying, having read some of the testimony to your committee,
the testimony has been inconsistent with what is in the scientific
Senator Raine: Do you think we should be listening to the
scientists or to anecdotal evidence from fishermen?
Mr. Lavigne: I think if you want to make a decision based on
science, you listen to the scientific evidence. If you want to take a risk,
at least what the scientists say is a risk, and manage based on anecdotal
evidence — that is not our history in this country, it is not our tradition
— that is a value judgment that you will make.
Senator Raine: Right now the grey seals have increased rapidly,
and you are saying maybe they are not going to keep increasing?
Mr. Lavigne: No. What I am saying is the government's data
suggests — and several government scientists have said — when we look at the
data, it looks like they are beginning to stabilize, and we would
anticipate, all other things being equal, that they will. That is what the
theory predicts, and that is what the scientists are beginning to think. The
increase in grey seals in recent years has not been as fast as it was years
ago when they were beginning to recover.
Senator Raine: You have said that the science, or your experience,
says that is because they are running out of habitat or food?
Mr. Lavigne: Those are the major limiting factors for seals.
Senator Raine: I guess the question is, should the seals eat the
cod or should humans eat the cod?
Mr. Lavigne: Again, it is not that simple. I remind you, if the
ecosystem were simply seals and cod, fewer seals would mean more cod, right?
In theory, forget seals and cod, seals eating a fish.
That is a two-species system. All you need to do is put one more species
into the system where the seals eat the predator of a commercially important
fish; you reduce the seals, you reduce the commercially important fish. That
is in a three-species system.
We are dealing with a multi-species system. We simply cannot predict, and
I daresay you cannot predict, what reducing the size of this box will have
on that box, which is cod, because there are all of these other pathways
impacting on cod and seals. You just cannot do it.
Senator Raine: Is man in that chart?
Mr. Lavigne: Yes, every one of the species enclosed in a box was,
at the time we did this, hunted or fished by humans.
Senator Raine: Right now there are 400,000 grey seals.
Mr. Lavigne: There are 7 billion human beings on the planet;
Senator Raine: One of the things I find tragic is that it looks to
me like there is an opportunity for a sustainable harvest of this great
quality of protein and oil.
Mr. Lavigne: Who will use it all? There is no shortage of seal
products. There are hundreds of thousands of seal pelts currently
Senator Raine: Do you think that the campaigns by animal rights
groups have had an impact on the market?
Mr. Lavigne: I imagine so. Let us put it another way. If I was
sitting here in the late 1960s or early to mid-1980s arguing for reduced
quotas for cod, people would have been giving me a rough time, saying no,
there is lot of fish there.
The reason we have a problem with cod today is that we overfished cod for
decades. I am sorry. It is true and that is what the science says. We took
800,000 tonnes of cod out of the northwest Atlantic in the 1960s.
I can remember scientists and fishermen saying we have to do something
about this cod fishery. If you look at the history of what happened, we —
Canadians and Europeans — continued to take more fish than we knew the
population could sustain and they collapsed.
Senator Raine: I am not suggesting for a moment that we should
ever do anything that would cause a collapse of the grey seal. I am looking
at the numbers game. A sustainable harvest and even a cull to allow the
codfish to recover is an option that we should be definitely considering.
Mr. Lavigne: You must consider the possibility that by culling
grey seals you may have a deleterious impact on cod and other species in
that ecosystem, because no one can tell you right now the potential effects,
these unanticipated consequences, of culling. We know about them. We can
warn you about them. What you are proposing is highly risky. I would not
take that risk. It is not a precautionary approach. If you want to take that
risk, that is fine.
There is another anecdote I must tell you.
There is something fundamentally wrong with how we deal with fisheries.
When we build a bridge, an engineer has to put his name on the line because
we do not want bridges falling down unexpectedly, and when bridges fall down
unexpectedly you know what happens. People get called up and all the rest of
When a fish stock collapses, no one says boo. We need to start to accept
some responsibility, whether it is building bridges or building aeroplanes,
where the certified engineers have to put their signatures down and have to
follow certain standards. We do not have that in fisheries. That is what the
Royal Society is saying. We do not have the same standards. When these
stocks collapse, like cod stocks, no one accepts responsibility. That is
tragic. I am saying that if we go out and cull grey seals and have a
deleterious and unexpected effect on cod or some other commercially
important species, who will take responsibility?
Senator Raine: You say that you would like to see a carefully
designed program that would include clearly stated objectives and rigorous
monitoring of the seal and cod populations in an ecosystem. Obviously, you
have thought about that a lot. The scientists can do a program and monitor
the cull, and we are not talking about 400,000 seals at once. There would
probably be a test. Would it not make sense to go in that direction?
Mr. Lavigne: No.
Senator Raine: There is a big risk as to where it is going now.
Mr. Lavigne: A couple of things have got mixed up. I think the
quotation you read was in fact from the DFO workshop where the collected
scientists managed to get that into the report.
You have to roll it back one. What the United Nations Environment Program
did in the 1990s, I guess, was because of all of these discussions about
culling marine mammals. They attempted to develop a protocol for the
scientific evaluation of proposals to cull marine mammals. There is a
protocol available. It is highly complicated, because the questions are
There is a protocol available. The first thing you do is what I am
recommending here, and in a sense the DFO SAR also made this recommendation
in other words. We have four proposals that I am aware of on the table to
cull grey seals. Let us subject them to something like South Africa did 20
years ago now, or let us subject them to the UNEP culling protocol and see
how it sorts out. Let us see if there are in fact advantages, as you are
arguing, or do we get what you might think would be a counterintuitive
result, as South Africa did. We have those protocols in place. Some DFO
scientists have been recommending we do that.
The SAR says we should do something like that before culling. If you were
to get a bunch of scientists here, they would say we are not there yet. We
do not have adequate information to say that these proposals should go
forward. We might be able to achieve our goals if we knew what the goal is.
We do not know what the goal is, and this is a point the Royal Society also
made. We have not set goals for cod. If we knew what the goal was and the
objective of the cull was, we could put a bunch of bright people in a room
with the UNEP protocol or something similar and they could answer your
You would then find out in a risk-free environment whether or not a cull
is likely to achieve your objectives. You have to know what those objectives
are. We do not even know what those are yet.
Just going out and culling, based on current knowledge, with all of the
uncertainty, is risky and ill-advised, in my opinion.
The Chair: Dr. Lavigne, several times during your testimony you
mentioned getting some scientists in here to testify. Can you make any
suggestions on who we would ask to come forward to enlighten us on some of
the issues raised here today?
Mr. Lavigne: Do you want me to give you a list or do you want me
to start naming people?
The Chair: Maybe you could forward a list to the clerk.
Mr. Lavigne: I would start, for example, because he signed the
letter of concern that we sent to the minister, Professor Boris Worm from
Dalhousie University, because he is an expert on predatory fish like cod.
I do not know what Jeff Hutchings is thinking these days. I have not
spoken to him in ages. He chaired this royal commission report. He is a
world authority on cod and related issues.
Those are two I would recommend right off the bat, but I will certainly
send you a list of other possibilities.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Senator MacDonald: I have a few questions.
A number of times you mentioned the problems with overfishing and the
situation with the cod stock. There is no doubt about that. The situation
with the cod stock in the early 1990s is certainly a result of massive
overfishing. I witnessed it. It was not just from domestic fishing but from
my doorstep in Louisbourg, huge factory trawlers going by, sweeping the
ocean of all the cod, our cod stocks traded off to create a better
relationship with foreign countries at the expense of fishing communities in
Eastern Canada. It went on for 40 years.
The problem now is not overfishing on the East Coast. That was the
problem. The problem is the recovery. You mentioned this report that came in
yesterday, but you did not mention all of it. This is the report from
O'Boyle and Sinclair.
Mr. Lavigne: That is a paper in press that is referenced in my
Senator MacDonald: You referenced parts of it. They mention that
in excess of 30 per cent of the seal diet was cod.
My mother packed cod for years at the National Sea Products plant in
Louisbourg, a huge packing line, cod every day, very little worm in that
fish for years, almost none, really.
Now this report here from the President of Sambro Fisheries, that was in
that report yesterday. Most of our processes with groundfish, what few cod
there are, are full of worms. They are called "cod worms," but they are
seal worms. I have seen the smaller cod peppered with them. More than 20
years ago a couple of wormers could keep up with four filleters. Now the
company has two filleters for every four or five wormers.
The seal worms are coming from somewhere, sir. There seems to be an
imbalance in the ecosystem. You mentioned that years ago the grey seal were
certainly endangered back in the 1940s and 1950s. There is no question about
that. I do not want to see 12,000 or 13,000 animals; that is not enough
animals for critical mass. I realize that. They have gone from 12,000 to
450,000 animals, and you mentioned predators, but with all respect, sir,
there are no polar bears off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Mr. Lavigne: That is what I said.
Senator MacDonald: There are no killer whales, either. The number
of natural predators these animals have is very limited.
You say they stabilized. I am not sure what you mean by "stabilize," or
what the appropriate number is to stabilize. We have a huge problem with
recovery down there.
Twenty years ago, my brother-in-law was a fishing captain on the Gadus
Atlantica, which was a fisheries research vessel for the country. He
fished for many years, and he is a very responsible guy and knew the fishery
well. He told me back then if they left the cod fishery alone, it may come
back in twenty years.
We had statistics in here a few years ago that shows us the cod fishery
has flat lined around Nova Scotia. Something has to be causing it.
Mr. Lavigne: The cod fishery?
Senator MacDonald: The cod stock. There is no overfishing going
on. There has been a moratorium.
Mr. Lavigne: There have been some open fisheries.
Senator MacDonald: It is very limited.
Give us a solution besides "you cannot do anything."
Mr. Lavigne: You mentioned two things. I want to tackle the cod
worm or the seal worm, whatever you want to call it. This was a very hot
issue in Canada in the late 1980s. Canada was saying exactly what you just
read: "Our fish are full of worms." We bought Canadian cod in the
marketplace, we went to England and bought cod and we went to the U.S. and
bought cod. I think we got some Icelandic cod along the way.
The point of the story is there were approximately equal densities of cod
worm in all the cod we looked at. Canada was the only country that stood on
a hilltop and said, "Our cod are full of worms." Iceland was double candling
its cod in those days and were being championed by others saying, "That
Icelandic cod is great stuff."
It is a poor marketing strategy.
Senator MacDonald: I am not comparing it to Icelandic cod. I am
talking about the cod my parents caught and my family worked with as opposed
to the cod today. What does Iceland's cod have to do with it?
Mr. Lavigne: My point is that wherever cod exist, you will find
these worms in cod. Now, the densities may vary over time, but there is no
direct correlation between the number of seals and the number of worms in
Senator MacDonald: How do you know that?
Mr. Lavigne: The science has been done.
Senator MacDonald: Do you have empirical evidence to show us that
it has been done? You make a lot of references, a lot of generalities, but
you do not give us any empirical evidence for a lot of the things you say.
Mr. Lavigne: Excuse me. That is what all those footnotes are
about. You have to read the footnotes.
Senator MacDonald: I looked at the footnotes.
Mr. Lavigne: I have not looked at cod worm recently. When I looked
at it about 15 years ago, there were no simple relationships between numbers
of seals and number of worms in cod.
I am not denying that there are worms in cod, but if I was trying to
market cod, I would not be telling everyone that my fish were full of worms.
I would take the worms out and market my fish because that is part of
Senator MacDonald: You do not think the government should try to
do something about cod infested with worm?
Mr. Lavigne: It tried to do a lot 20 years ago, and I think
eventually it kind of gave up because this is a basically a global problem
that no one has found an immediate solution to, other than dealing with the
worms in the fillets, taking the worms out of the fillets and marketing your
Anyway, there is a huge literature on cod worm, and I know there are
concerns. I am not denying there are worms in fish. I just think it is a
strange marketing strategy.
Senator MacDonald: You said in your paper and you repeated a
number of times that the culling of a predator could result in the reduction
of preferred fish stocks.
Do you have any empirical evidence to back that statement up? Can you
show us something? That statement is very hard to believe.
Mr. Lavigne: Why?
Senator MacDonald: It is something that eats fish. Never mind your
chart. I do not want to see your chart. We have seen your chart.
Mr. Lavigne: I know, but that is the real world we are dealing
Senator MacDonald: That is a piece of paper, sir. That is not the
real world. The real world is people down there and communities falling
apart, no one can make a living anymore and the fish stocks will not repair
themselves. That is the real world, sir, that we are dealing with. If you
want to talk to me about preventing the decrease of pinnipeds like walruses
and animals that are truly endangered, I will be with you all the way.
However, when you are using harp seals or grey seals to raise money all over
the world —
Mr. Lavigne: I am not doing that. What I came here to tell you is
what the science says. It is not just my science. It is what the scientific
Now, you can abandon the science.
Senator MacDonald: You told us we cannot trust the science.
Mr. Lavigne: What I have told you is that there is scientific
uncertainty. That much is certain.
Senator MacDonald: One thing that is certain is that our fish
stocks are not recovering. That is certain.
Mr. Lavigne: Hold on. There are a number of studies that are
showing recovery in cod stocks.
Senator MacDonald: Not around Nova Scotia.
Mr. Lavigne: You mentioned a relative talking about it taking 20
years for cod to recover. You probably remember 1992. I think the initial
moratorium was for two years. I remember sitting around with a bunch of
scientists, and we were saying there will not be any recovery in two years.
It might take 10 years, 20 years, or it might never recover because we have
reduced the cod stocks by 99 per cent. That is the reality.
Now the good news, and I think it is good news, is that some of these cod
stocks are showing signs of recovery.
Senator MacDonald: Not around Nova Scotia, sir. It does not
matter, does it, around Nova Scotia?
Mr. Lavigne: I am saying some cod stocks in the Gulf of St.
Lawrence, the Scotian Shelf, are showing the signs of recovery, right now,
with all these grey seals there and everything else.
We waited since 1992. We are now seeing signs of recovery, and we want to
go there and remove 73 to 220,000 grey seals.
Senator MacDonald: I do not think anybody said 220,000.
Mr. Lavigne: It is in one of the reports.
Senator MacDonald: I do not think that is —
Mr. Lavigne: I do not, either. I do not write these things. The
point is there are people who want to kill a lot of grey seals. We know from
experience that the status of the fish stock or the number of seals do not
matter, and the Mediterranean is the ultimate example. Wherever seals and
fisheries overlap somebody wants to cull those darned seals.
Senator MacDonald: You are not comparing the monk seal to the grey
Mr. Lavigne: No, I am pointing out that it does not matter how
many seals there. People will want to cull them. You are saying we do not
want to cull all of them, but there will be people who would.
Senator MacDonald: I do not agree with you. It does not matter how
many seals there are. If there are 10 or 12,000 seals, I do not want to cull
them at all. I want them left alone. If there are 22,000 walruses, I do not
want any of them killed. However, when there are 450,000 roaming around the
east coast of Nova Scotia eating everything in their path. . .
Mr. Lavigne: They are not all in Nova Scotia.
Senator MacDonald: Well, most of them. There are about 350,000 on
Sable Island alone. The fishermen have given up on Sable Island — gone.
There is an imbalance in the ecosystem down there, and something has to
be done about it.
Mr. Lavigne: The scientific advice is that if you conduct one of
these large culls, be prepared for unintended consequences. That is not just
me, but that is what DFO scientists are saying and others. Do you want to
jeopardize apparently recovering cod stocks?
Senator MacDonald: I question the strength of that argument. I
Mr. Lavigne: Okay.
Senator MacDonald: It is easy to put that out there, but there
does not seem to be a lot of empirical evidence to back it up.
Mr. Lavigne: There is a paper co-authored by Don Bowen and another
professor at Dalhousie that was submitted to the DFO workshop. It has been
published as a DFO paper. You should read it.
Senator MacDonald: Your science counts; I know. Other people's
Mr. Lavigne: That was their science. That was not my science, sir.
That was DFO science and an independent scientist from Dalhousie University,
not my science. I am just quoting them, and the paper is listed there.
The Chair: That was an interesting exchange for sure.
Senator Cochrane: It was O'Boyle and Sinclair.
Mr. Lavigne: That is one of them, but I was referring to the Bowen
paper on unintended consequences of culls, Bowen and Lidgard, 2011.
Senator Cochrane: Dr. Lavigne, I would like more information about
the organization you are here to represent. It is the International Fund for
Animal Welfare. Is that right?
Mr. Lavigne: Correct.
Senator Cochrane: You did say that you cannot manage a single
species. Is that what you said earlier?
Mr. Lavigne: I am saying that the record shows that we have failed
at managing single species, yes.
Senator Cochrane: Let me tell you about an experience I had in
Europe a few years ago. There were a lot of muskrats around, and they were
plugging up the culverts under the bridges, and do you know what the
Europeans were doing with them? They were shooting them. Therefore, it seems
to me that your actions are at odds with the mandate if you are representing
the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Would you want to refute that?
Mr. Lavigne: Refute what? Would we endorse shooting muskrats?
Probably we would not endorse shooting muskrats, no. Why would we endorse
Senator Cochrane: They were doing it.
Mr. Lavigne: Who was?
Senator Cochrane: The Europeans.
Mr. Lavigne: That is not IFAW. That is Europeans. That is like
saying Canadians are IFAW.
Senator Cochrane: Yes, but you are international.
Mr. Lavigne: It is the name of the organization. We are an
international organization that has offices in 15 countries, or whatever. We
do not accept responsibility for what Europeans, Americans, Canadians or
South Africans or whoever happens to do with their wildlife.
Senator Cochrane: What about your campaign? Are you campaigning
against that as well as the seals?
Mr. Lavigne: I am not aware of this muskrat problem. We work on a
number of species.
Senator MacDonald: Muskrats do not raise enough money.
Mr. Lavigne: That is pretty cynical.
Senator MacDonald: Well, it is true. It is pretty true.
Senator Cochrane: When studies like the recent one done by O'Boyle
and Sinclair conclude that grey seals are preventing the recovery of the cod
on the Eastern Scotian Shelf; it seems to me that organizations like yours
would be wise to start advocating for the endangered cod stocks.
Mr. Lavigne: Let me read the last paragraph of that paper, which
no journalist seems to have done.
This is O'Boyle and Sinclair:
It is concluded that the increases in natural mortality of cod on the
eastern Scotian Shelf since the late 1980s have been due in large part
to the exponential growth of the grey seal population.
That is their conclusion. They go on to write:
The assumptions made in this study (and the associated model results)
are, however, inconsistent with the estimated recent increase in cod
abundance (i.e. since 2005).This could be due to several reasons. The
model assumptions may be unrealistic, the estimated recent upswing in
the cod abundance may be overestimated in the bottom trawl surveys,
and/or there may be a lag in the response of the seals to an increase in
They say "our model does not fit the data," which I said earlier. There
may be a problem with the actual data. Then they go on to refer to Frank et.
al., another group of researchers in a very prominent journal in 2011, and
that they "interpret the recent increases in the abundance of cod" — now
scientists are talking about increases in the abundance of cod — "on the
Eastern Scotian Shelf as being part of a shift in ecosystem structure due to
a reduction in pelagic fish abundance and associated trophic level
interactions. They do not consider that seal predation has played an
important role, neither in the cod population temporal trends nor in the
estimated fluctuations in natural mortality."
I made reference to the fact that in parts of the paper this is a very
forthright presentation. They conclude, and it is entirely consistent with
what I am saying, "The coming years will hopefully provide observations that
clarify the diverse interpretations."
In other words, they cannot reject the frank hypothesis that these cod
stocks are increasing on the Scotian Shelf, and that is admitted in this
paper, but journalists are not reading to the end of the paper and reporting
the caveats that authors have clearly outlined in their own paper.
Senator Cochrane: What year was that paper published?
Mr. Lavigne: That paper is in press, and it will be published
later this year. Bits and pieces of it — again, reminding you of the
Homer-Dixon quotation — had been selected by the media and by others to say
that the seals are eating all the cod, when, in fact, the model does not
quite fit the data, and there are, by their own admission, other
interpretations by other scientists published in very reputable journals
that are talking about the increases in the abundance of cod and the fact
that grey seals have not played much of a role in the cod situation. That is
the uncertainty I was trying to get across in my presentation.
Senator Cochrane: I am sure we will get a copy of that.
Mr. Lavigne: I am happy to provide you with a copy.
Senator Cochrane: I understand that the IFAW's Canadian office
used to be based here in Ottawa.
Mr. Lavigne: That is correct.
Senator Cochrane: Now it is in Guelph, Ontario?
Mr. Lavigne: There is a small office still in Ottawa, and the
Guelph office where I worked. It has always been mainly concerned with
science and public education.
Senator Cochrane: Why was the move to Guelph instead of the main
Mr. Lavigne: No, the Canadian entity is still based in Ottawa.
Senator Cochrane: It has the most employees?
Mr. Lavigne: Not at the present time. We have a research office
that we have had in Guelph in 1990 and it is still there. I cannot remember
the exact year we opened an office in Ottawa, which we eventually closed,
but some staff remained. We recently reopened a small office.
Senator Cochrane: You have reduced your budget in Ottawa, then.
You have reduced your staff, so you have reduced your budget; right?
Mr. Lavigne: Yes.
Senator Cochrane: By how much?
Mr. Lavigne: I have no idea. I am not a finance person. It
probably will not come as any surprise to you that 9/11 had a considerable
impact on NGOs and the recent economic downturn has not been particularly
kind to anyone. As any responsible organization, you have to change your
spending patterns in keeping with the amount of money available.
Senator Cochrane: About how many staff were let go here in Ottawa?
Mr. Lavigne: Currently, I would say maybe four.
Senator Cochrane: About four were let go?
Mr. Lavigne: No, no. I thought you said how many are here. About
four are here.
Senator Cochrane: And before that?
Mr. Lavigne: Off the top of my head, 12 maybe. We closed the
Senator Cochrane: How many people receive payment for their work
at the IFAW in Canada?
Mr. Lavigne: You mean what is the entire allotment of staff?
Senator Cochrane: Yes, in Canada.
Mr. Lavigne: We have five in our office, I guess.
Senator Cochrane: Is that in Guelph?
Mr. Lavigne: Yes.
Senator Cochrane: How many in the Ottawa region?
Mr. Lavigne: I am not up to date on it. I would say probably four.
Senator Cochrane: That is nine. Are they the only ones that are
employed in Canada with the IFAW, nine people?
Mr. Lavigne: About that.
Senator Cochrane: About nine people?
Mr. Lavigne: Yes.
The Chair: Senator Poirier, I am sorry, but we will not go to a
I thank you very much, Mr. Lavigne, for your presentation and for
answering the questions. It has been an interesting discussion over the past
couple of hours. We certainly look forward to a discussion on that and
hearing from all sides on what we deem to be an important issue that we are
facing at the present time. Thank you for your presence here today.
Mr. Lavigne: Thank you for the opportunity and thank you all for
your questions and spirited discussion.
The Chair: For sure, as always.
We will adjourn for a few moments now and ask committee members to stay
put. We will go into an in camera session for a moment to discuss our plans.
(The committee continued in camera.)