Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Fisheries and Oceans
Issue 6 - Evidence - March 13, 2012
OTTAWA, Tuesday, March 13, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans met this day at
5:07 p.m to study the management of the grey seal population off Canada's
East Coast; and for the consideration of a draft budget to study the lobster
fishery in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.
Senator Fabian Manning (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators and Mr. Hutchings, welcome to the
meeting of the Standing Senate Committee Fisheries and Oceans. I am Fabian
Manning, a senator from Newfoundland and Labrador, and I am the chair of the
committee. Before I introduce the witness this evening, I invite members of
the committee to introduce themselves.
Senator Poy: Vivienne Poy from Toronto.
Senator Hubley: Elizabeth Hubley from Prince Edward Island.
Senator Raine: Nancy Greene Raine from British Columbia.
Senator Dagenais: Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais from Quebec.
Senator Oliver: Don Oliver from Nova Scotia.
Senator Harb: Mac Harb from Ontario.
Senator Chaput: Maria Chaput from Manitoba.
Senator Poirier: Rose-May Poirier, New Brunswick.
The Chair: We may have some other senators joining us later, and
we will take care of introductions at that time.
The committee has been in continuous study of the management of the grey
seal population off Canada's East Coast. We are pleased today to hear from
Mr. Jeffrey Hutchings, Professor of Biology at Dalhousie University.
Professor Hutchings was Chair of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on
Sustaining Canadian Marine Biodiversity, from November 2009 until the
release of the panel's report in February 2012. Mr. Hutchings, we are
delighted you could join us. I understand you have opening remarks to make.
We will have some questions from our senators after. We look forward to
hearing from you; the floor is yours.
Jeffrey Hutchings, Professor of the Department of Biology and Chair of
the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on Sustaining Canadian Marine
Biodiversity, Dalhousie University: Thank you for the invitation to
appear before your committee. I am the chair of a recent national report on
oceans prepared in response to a request by the Royal Society of Canada that
an independent expert panel be convened to advise on a series of questions
related to the sustainability of Canada's marine biodiversity. Following its
deliberations from June 2010 to January 2012, the panel released its report
on February 2. It is entitled, Sustaining Canada's Marine Biodiversity:
Responding to the Challenges Posed by Climate Change, Fisheries, and
Aquaculture. Pursuant to the current interests of this Senate committee,
the report attempts to do several things: to describe trends in Canada's
oceans and marine biological life; to describe and forecast how fisheries
have affected and are likely to affect Canadian marine biodiversity; to
determine whether Canada has fulfilled its national and international
commitments to sustain marine biodiversity; and to provide broad
strategically based recommendations to establish Canada as an international
leader in oceans stewardship and marine conservation.
Fisheries have multiple consequences for marine biodiversity. The most
direct is through reductions in the numbers of individuals directly targeted
as a catch by a fishery or caught incidentally as bycatch. Such an effect
need not be problematic from a biodiversity perspective. It depends on the
extent to which the population is reduced relative to the levels at which it
is predicted to be sustainable in the long-term, both from a single species
and a multispecies or ecosystem perspective.
Marine fishes in Canada's oceans are estimated to have declined by an
average of 52 per cent from 1970 to the mid- 1990s and have remained stable
thereafter. However, most commercially fished stocks remain well below
conservation targets. When compared to other developed fishing nations and
jurisdictions, such as the U.S., Norway, Australia, New Zealand and South
Africa, Canada's record at achieving long-term sustainability in its
fisheries has been less than stellar. The severe overfishing that occurred
in Canadian Atlantic waters from the 1960s through the mid-1990s severely
reduced the abundance of many species, often by more than 90 per cent, and
dramatically altered marine food webs and interactions between species.
Fishery-induced changes to predator-prey interactions might be
responsible for significantly retarding or even preventing the recovery of
depleted marine fishes. At least three species in the southern Gulf of St.
Lawrence, for example, are experiencing unsustainably high levels of natural
mortality, meaning that they will be extirpated or lost from the southern
gulf if mortality does not decline.
White hake, one of these fish in this area, might be the most endangered
marine fish in Canada. In the 1970s and 1980s, approximately 18 per cent of
adult hake were dying every year. In the past decade, this has increased
from 18 per cent to as much as 91 per cent every year. White hake might
disappear from the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence within the next decade.
High mortality is predicted to prevent winter skate from increasing
following its 98 per cent decline in the southern gulf. Atlantic cod in the
southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, once, in 1987, the largest spawning
population of cod in the world, is currently experiencing such high
mortality that the stock is projected to be extirpated or lost from the
southern gulf by 2050.
One factor thought to be inhibiting cod recovery is the increase in
abundance of species that cod formerly preyed upon, such as mackerel and
herring. These species feed upon cod eggs and larvae. In recent years, the
recovery of cod is also thought to be affected by predation by grey seals,
whose abundance has increased dramatically since the 1960s.
There is credible scientific analysis to indicate that the unsustainably
high mortality of some fish in the southern gulf, including cod, can be
partly attributed do predation by grey seals. There is also credible
scientific analysis to indicate that grey seals might prey upon southern
gulf adult cod to a greater extent than previously believed, particularly
However, there are also credible scientific analyses that suggest that
the culling of grey seals by whatever means might not be sufficient to allow
for the recovery of Atlantic cod and other depleted fishes in the southern
Gulf of St. Lawrence. One key reason for this conclusion is that the marine
food web is not comprised of only two species, seals and cod. Rather, there
are multiple species that interact with one another, such as competing with
one another for food or preying upon one another at different life stages.
This makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions about how changes in one
species will affect the abundance of any other species in the ecosystem.
In my view, a cull of grey seals for the purpose of improving fisheries
productivity would represent an insufficient reason for initiating such a
cull for two reasons. First, the effects of such a cull, as I indicated, on
the recovery of cod or other species cannot be credibly predicted from a
science perspective; and second, the deliberate killing of one species
native to Canada because of the human-induced depletion of another native
species, ultimately caused by politically expedient but scientifically
unjustified management decisions, would be difficult to defend from a
variety of perspectives.
The question can be asked: Under what circumstances might a cull be
defensible? There is compelling evidence, with some exceptions, that Canada
has not operationalized and fulfilled its numerous national and
international commitments to sustain marine biodiversity either in spirit or
in practice. Canada's progress has been unduly slow in both an absolute
sense, as some commitments have not been met almost two decades after they
were agreed upon, and in a comparative sense, noting that substantive
progress has been achieved by other Western industrialized nations in
meeting and often exceeding their national and international commitments to
sustain marine biodiversity.
One of these key deficiencies is reflected by the absence of recovery
plans, recovery targets, conservation limits and recovery harvest rules for
depleted species, contrary to Canada's obligations to do so. In my view, a
cull of grey seals in the southern gulf could potentially be deemed
defensible if the following four points were addressed: first, if it was
formally acknowledged that the heightened extinction risks faced by marine
fishes in the southern gulf were produced by human- induced overfishing and
predicated by political expediency; second, if appropriate recovery plans
existed for currently and previously exploited fishes in the southern Gulf
of St. Lawrence, which currently do not exist; third, if additional
scientific analysis supports the hypothesis that predation by grey seals on
adult cod is higher than previously believed; and fourth, if the cull was
deemed to be the only possible action that could be taken to prevent the
extirpation or loss of endangered marine fishes in the southern gulf.
In other words, the cull would represent a last-ditch attempt to recover
species at risk of extinction. As with all recovery actions, the feasibility
of the action and the scientific assessment of the possibility that a cull
might have no effect or even a negative effect on recovery would need to be
The logical necessity of establishing target and limit reference points
and associated harvest control rules cannot be overstated. Put simply, if
there are no recovery targets or timelines for recovery, and there are
neither for southern gulf Atlantic cod, there is no recovery plan. In the
absence of targets or harvest control rules, neither society nor industry
can inquire as to whether a proposed management action, such as a seal cull,
is consistent with the objective of achieving a particular target within a
predefined recovery period. In the absence of reference points or control
rules, there is no means of being able to audit the effectiveness or to
track the record of fisheries management decisions.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that it is the Minister of Fisheries
and Oceans' duty to manage, conserve and develop the fisheries on behalf of
all Canadians and in the public interests. In effect, the minister is
responsible for investing in biological reproductive capacity and spending
or exploiting the marine biological capital held by all Canadians. A
"budget" for spending this capital, complete with quantitative objectives
or targets is as necessary for the minister as it is for a financial manager
responsible for managing an investment portfolio.
In summary, in the absence of a recovery plan for cod and other marine
fishes in Canadian waters — one that includes targets for rebuilding,
conservation limits and rules for governing harvest — the culling of grey
seals would be appropriately interpreted to be an ad hoc management measure.
While such ad hoc measures were characteristic of many past Canadian
fisheries management practices, such a measure would be viewed as being
inconsistent with existing Canadian sustainable fisheries policies and would
be deemed to be contrary to the national and international obligations
Canada has made to recover, conserve and sustainably utilize marine
biological life for the benefit of Canadian society and for the global
community. Therein end my opening remarks.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Hutchings. I am sure you have raised a
few questions for us sitting around the table.
Senator Hubley: Thank you very much for your presentation, Mr.
Hutchings. It is more information for us to consider for sure.
You spoke at great length on the pros and the cons of culling. I
understand that you are a cod expert as well, is that correct?
Mr. Hutchings: I have worked on cod since 1992, yes.
Senator Hubley: The grey seals' target seems to be now, or has
been, the cod species.
I have a couple of questions on that.
You set out four items that should be considered. You suggested that the
cull should be the last step that would be taken to turn around or to
address an imbalance within the environment. When we come to the cod
fishery, basically it is gone. I was interested that you said that there had
been no targeted programs for its recovery. I am thinking that there have
been some in the past. The fishery was closed down; there were certainly
some scientists monitoring the cod. What sort of targeted information on the
cod do you feel should have been gotten before then?
If grey seals are eating fish — and we do have evidence from some
witnesses who feel very strongly that they are — do we not have enough
evidence to make a judgment now, rather than waiting until yet another
species disappears? I am coming from Prince Edward Island, and we understand
now that the grey seal may be liking the taste of lobster, which is pretty
serious business on P.E.I. It is our largest industry.
If I was looking at a grey seal cull, what effect do you think that would
have on that cod fishery or on other fisheries? Is there a direct link
between the growth of the grey seal population and the stagnation of the cod
As well, could a targeted reduction of the grey seals have a negative
impact on cod or on other fisheries?
Mr. Hutchings: Thank you very much. You have asked several
extremely good questions.
Senator Hubley: We try to get them in; we might need just one
Mr. Hutchings: I thank you, in particular, for one of your first
questions, dealing with targets for recovery.
To clarify, there have been some qualitative recovery intentions in the
past. What have been missing are quantitative targets. This goes back to the
1990s, when Canada signed on to the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Part
of this was called the UN Fish Stocks Agreement. Canada agreed to
incorporate the precautionary approach into fisheries management plans. That
involves identifying a target reference point, as it is called, which
represents a level of abundance that you want a fish stock to get to, a
limit reference point, below which you do not want the stock to fall, and a
rule for governing harvest levels, depending on how close or far away you
are from the target. We do not have a target for southern gulf cod. In fact,
we do not have a recovery target for any of our cod stocks, not even
northern cod. When I say that we do not have a target for recovery, I mean a
numerical target so that everyone can judge how close to or how far away we
are from that target.
You are quite right that seals do eat fish. As I indicated in my opening
remarks, there is credible scientific evidence to believe that grey seals
are partly responsible for the elevated natural mortality of cod and other
species. I think that is a fairly reasonable thing to conclude.
The key question is not whether seals are consuming cod; they are. In my
mind, a key question is not whether seals have increased the natural
mortality of cod; I suspect that they have. The key is that it is not
entirely clear that if you reduce grey seals you will automatically get an
increase in cod.
Before we got into some of the more recent analyses of grey seal diet,
there had been some very good analyses to indicate something that I touched
upon, which is that, with the depletion of cod, things that cod used to feed
upon, such as mackerel and herring, have increased in abundance. We know
that these species do feed upon young cod and can compete with young cod.
Some people have hypothesized — and it is difficult to discount this
hypothesis — that if you remove grey seals, which also eat mackerel and
herring, you might not have an effect on cod because the mackerel and
herring might do better. If they do better and continue to feed more on cod
eggs and larvae, a cull of grey seals might not have any effect on the
recovery of cod. It might have a positive effect, no effect, or a negative
effect, but things cannot get much worse for cod right now. This is the key
question that everyone is grappling with, namely, looking at the trade-offs.
That is, what are the pros and cons of a cull from a moral, scientific,
ethical, and economic perspective. At the end of the day, from a science
perspective, it is rather difficult to credibly conclude whether a cull
would have a positive, negative, or negligible impact on cod.
Senator Hubley: I might ask why that is, but that would be a
pretty simple question. When we think of the cod fishery and how it has
declined, it went down very quickly, and we all looked at the overfishing
situation. It has not been overfished for a while, I believe. I know they do
have some fishing for cod. The grey seal has increased dramatically over a
period of time. Somewhere, there is a balance that has been interrupted. It
seems that the sheer numbers of grey seals in their colonies must have an
impact on the environment in some way; they must be feeding.
In the fishery, we have heard evidence that they feel it is the fishery
that they are feeding on. Therefore, we would hope that reducing the number
of seals would give the fish a chance, whether or not it would. How would
you respond to that?
Mr. Hutchings: In the first instance, cod basically suffered its
most dramatic consequences in the early 1990s. The northern cod fishery was
closed in 1992, and most of the others were closed in 1993. Since that
period of time, with, arguably, one exception along the south coast of
Newfoundland, there has not really been a strong scientific argument to have
a fishery in any of the remaining areas. That was the primary reason why the
cod moratoria were put in place.
After a few years, though, some of the fisheries started to be reopened.
The southern gulf was one of them; northern cod was another.
One reason those have been characterized as ad hoc management measures is
that the catch quotas that were put in place were not part of a broad
management plan. In other words, what is the target for recovery? How might
these catch quotas affect the ability of cod to recover?
One of the things I think those fishery reopenings did, and it is really
too bad in retrospect, is that all of the cod stocks, having already
declined by 90, 95, 99 per cent in one case, were already in a rather
precarious state. Even though fisheries were closed for three, four or five
years in some instances, reopening fisheries basically nipped the bud of
recovery in a couple of instances and thus kept the populations at extremely
Instead of having cod being allowed to recover in the absence of fishing,
we had cod basically kept at a very low level because of these fisheries.
Even though they were described as small-scale fisheries, they were small in
the sense that the absolute amount of cod was relatively low, but they were
high in terms of the percentage of what was available to be taken.
While the cod was kept at a low level, predators were increasing in
abundance. If there is an imbalance, and definitely the food webs have
changed dramatically, it is a product of over-exploitation. I think everyone
would agree that the enormous numbers of grey seals that are there today
have some impact on the ocean ecosystem.
To address the question you did not ask, why we do not know, quite
simply, we have an extremely poor understanding of the interactions between
different species in the ocean. In fact, even within a river, we do not have
a great handle on it. I work on salmon and trout as well, and we do not have
an extremely good sense of predictability about what goes on in a river
system, let alone a large ocean ecosystem. That is the primary basis for the
Senator Harb: Thank you for your presentation. You mentioned a set
of four conditions, and you said they have to be met first before you move
to a conclusion as to whether or not you want to conduct a cull. Who will
look at those four conditions and try to ensure they are met? Is it the
Department of Fisheries and Oceans or independent scientists? I would be
interested in hearing your opinion.
Mr. Hutchings: I think it would be the responsibility of the
Department of Fisheries and Oceans. In the first instance, the first point I
mentioned was that it be formally acknowledged that the heightened
extinction risks faced by some of these species is a product of our past
management actions. I do not think anyone would disavow that, but we need to
be honest and upfront with society if such a decision were to be made.
With regard to recovery plans, that is the purview of the Department of
Fisheries and Oceans. Indeed, they already have a policy in place, and it is
called the Sustainable Fisheries Framework, which the Royal Society panel
agreed was a very good policy. It is simply not being implemented at a quick
pace. It would be the department's responsibility to establish those
In terms of additional scientific analysis to see whether grey seals are
indeed feeding on adult cod to a greater extent than previously believed, I
do have some information on that. I do not know if your committee has been
party to this yet. Basically, to recap briefly — maybe you are already aware
of this — much of the scientific analyses on cod diet indicated that seals
feed primarily on small, young cod but not large adult cod. It was not until
a sample of grey seal stomachs taken in 2009 off the north end of Cape
Breton, where southern gulf cod aggregate in the wintertime, that they found
that male grey seals were eating quite large cod. The largest cod was 70
centimeters, and the average size was 43 centimeters. It is my understanding
that they repeated that sampling of grey seal stomachs in 2010, and cod made
up 60 per cent of the diet. The average size of cod was a little bit less.
Instead of 43, it was 35 centimeters, but the largest cod consumed was 76
centimeters. A third sample was collected just this past November, December
and January, and those samples are being analyzed right now. We will see
whether those also indicate that adult cod are likely to be taken.
The last point was that the cull would be viewed as a species recovery
initiative as opposed to a fisheries productivity initiative.
Senator Harb: In 1997, you appeared before the Standing Committee
on Fisheries and Oceans, December 4, and you talked about the fact that you
did a study. You tried to appear before a symposium about the role of marine
mammals and ecosystems. Your study was involved with the influence of seals
and the collapse and recovery of northern cod. At that time, you told the
committee that you were not permitted to even distribute copies of your
work, and you stated that the department at the symposium was perceived by
international scientists to have behaved unprofessionally and it was indeed
an embarrassment to Canadian scientists. The message to scientists was that
if you undertake research that is politically sensitive and if your research
draws conclusions that could be interpreted as being contrary to the
minister's position, be aware that the communication of the results of your
research will depend on potential political consequences rather than your
Has anything changed since that time, 15 years later? You repeated the
same thing in your findings here, in the commission that you just did. One
of the recommendations you talked about was conflict of interest and that
you cannot let the department be the judge and the police at the same time.
Mr. Hutchings: Thank you. I had not realized that some of my
comments from 15 years ago might come back, but I am glad you raised this
because it is an extremely important point. It pertains to the communication
of basic science to society.
At that time, to recap, some of us were examining the potential influence
of seal predation on the collapse of northern cod. We had concluded that
seals could not be blamed for the collapse of cod. This was written up, and
I was working with Fisheries and Oceans at the time, and we were not
permitted to distribute copies of that report at an international meeting on
marine mammal fishery interactions. At the last minute, we were allowed to
present it orally, but no written copies were permitted. That was one good
example of the inhibition of the communication of science. Science only
progresses by being tossed around, poked and prodded to see whether it
stands up to scrutiny, and ours was not permitted that luxury.
Things have changed. From a seal/cod perspective, I think there is much
more information available to society, to the public and to decision makers
than was the case 15 years ago. I will also say that I did take part, as an
independent scientist, at a cod/seal workshop that DFO held in October of
2010. In my view, the scientific presentations were very good, very credible
and, among other things, there were some top-notch scientists who were
basically saying there were multiple hypotheses for why cod and other fishes
were not doing so well. The most parsimonious explanation seemed to be one
compatible with increased seal predation. In an overall sense, the
communication of science from a grey seal/ cod perspective has much
improved. From my perspective, the available science is being made available
to society right now.
Senator Harb: Hearing what you just said, basically, if such a
study were to be undertaken, not only should it focus on the potential
negative impact of the grey seal on the cod, but it should also look at the
positive impact of the grey seal on the cod because of the herring issue
that you raise. The herrings eat the eggs of the cod, and therefore they can
do much more damage eating thousands of eggs than the seals who eat a few
cod. That is an interesting point, and I hope my colleagues will take note
I want to hear whether you agree or not, but the issue should be about
overfishing and the fact that there is no government strategy in place that
is not politically motivated and scientifically based. I hear you saying
there is a need for a strategy for the recovery of fish. Do you see this
strategy include, for example, the fact that the overfishing could probably
be playing a bigger role than we thought initially and the government should
perhaps play a more proactive role on the international scene?
Mr. Hutchings: With respect to the government playing a more
proactive role on the international scene, it arguably has been playing a
greater role on the international scene than it has domestically. That was
another conclusion from this report. Where we have made progress, arguably,
has been more outside the 200-mile limit than inside.
It is my view — and I think it is fair to say the view of other
scientists and others who have thought about this — that any activity to
kill grey seals to control predation in some form must be part of a grander
plan. It must be part of a broadly based plan that would be compatible with
what all of these other fishing nations are doing.
In the absence of even simple recovery targets, it is pretty hard to make
the argument that an ad hoc management action would be an appropriate one if
you do not know what it is you hope to achieve. How, then, can you evaluate
the effectiveness of that management activity if you do not have a
prescribed outcome? In order to judge that prescribed outcome, you need
numerical targets and a recovery plan.
In sum, an action such as a cull, if it were to take place, would need to
be part of a broader comprehensive recovery plan.
Senator Poy: Thank you very much. I have been listening very
carefully. Obviously what you say makes a lot of sense because you cannot
cull one species and expect everything to balance.
The main concern right now is the cod fishery, not recovery. There is
talk about grey seals eating too many of them, therefore they should be
culled. I am not sure what is happening, but is there fish farming for cod?
Mr. Hutchings: There is some fish farming for cod, although it is
not extremely well developed.
Senator Poy: Why is that? Could we not develop it better and then
ultimately release them back into the ocean?
Mr. Hutchings: That is an interesting idea. That idea was first
used in Canada, in Newfoundland, in the 1890s. From 1890 to about 1898, the
Newfoundland government brought over a Norwegian named Adolph Neilson and he
established a hatchery in Bull Arm, Trinity Bay. He collected spawning cod,
reared cod eggs and put the young back into the ocean. Norway was doing the
same thing in some of its fjords at the same time. The difficulty was people
felt there was no good way to evaluate whether it was making much of a
difference. The primary reason for that is because even though cod are at a
very low level, they still number in the millions of fish. Numerically,
there are still a lot out there.
Senator Poy: Right now or at that time?
Mr. Hutchings: Right now. There were billions and there are now
millions. The hatchery capacity required in order to make a demonstrable
effect would be enormous, much greater than we currently have. Any cod
farming activities that are currently taking place are primarily for the
purpose of rearing cod for aquaculture purposes.
Senator Poy: Could you not have hundreds of millions of fingerings
and then release them back into the ocean?
Mr. Hutchings: You could do that. However, one of the great
difficulties with something like cod is that a single female, for example,
can produce millions of offspring. Of those millions, the chance of even one
surviving is extremely low. Before we overfished cod, a female cod would
typically live for 10 to 15 years. She would spawn millions of eggs every
year, primarily because the chance of any of them living was so small. It is
just like a lottery. The chance of winning a lottery is probably better than
the chance of a single cod egg surviving in the wild.
Even if one took millions of larvae reared in a hatchery and put them in
the ocean, they would be subjected to the same types of mortality rates. It
would probably require a much greater technological effort than we currently
Senator Poy: I was wondering, instead of culling the grey seals,
if we would do it the other way by increasing the population of cod.
I think it was last year that we had an abundance of lobster. Do grey
seals not eat lobsters?
Mr. Hutchings: Grey seals eat a number of things, many things.
Senator Poy: Yet, if there was an abundance of lobster, it may not
be the grey seals that affected the cod fishery. Is that right?
Mr. Hutchings: You raise a good point because, for example, on the
eastern Scotian Shelf from Halifax north to Cape Breton, that cod population
was never reopened commercially. It still has not been since it was closed
in 1993. It has only shown signs of recovery in the last four or five years.
The recovery is modest. Some people feel it is quite good, others are more
circumspect. However, this recovery is taking place in the same area of
Sable Island where there are hundreds of thousands of grey seals. That might
be viewed as an example where we have lots of grey seals, but some recovery
of cod appears to be taking place.
To be balanced and objective on this, the difference in the southern gulf
is that the behaviour of southern gulf cod is such that it might put itself
at a greater risk of predation. The reason I say is that is the southern
gulf cod have this rather unique migratory behaviour. They leave the Gulf of
St. Lawrence in the fall of the year, go around Cape Breton, and over the
winter as a comparatively tight aggregation off the north part of Cape
Breton. They move back into the gulf in the spring of the year and
distribute themselves widely.
Therefore, there is a reasonable possibility that even though the whole
stock is at a relatively low level, they still aggregate themselves and put
themselves at risk in the winter time, such that relatively few grey seals
might be capable of inflicting high levels of mortality.
I think some scientists view the credibility of the grey seal/cod
relationship or predation model as being reasonable, given that this
behavioral difference between cod in this area and cod in other areas.
However, your point is well taken.
Senator Poy: What animals prey on seals? Do we have enough of them
so that we can keep the marine balance?
Mr. Hutchings: Very few animals prey on seals, and those would be
very large sharks. One example would be the great white shark that has been
assessed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife
in Canada. To be quite honest, there are exceedingly few predators of grey
seals. Any that do exist would be sharks, but sharks are generally not doing
well in Canadian waters right now.
Senator Poy: Thank you very much.
Senator Oliver: I have two questions.
One of them relates to the piece of paper you picked up a little while
ago when you were talking about the fact that the grey seal diet is 60 per
cent cod. Then you started telling us something about the 43 centimetres up
to 76 centimetres in terms of size. What paper and document is that? Who did
the research? What is the date of the research? What is the data? How big
was the sample? Tell me a little bit about that document.
Mr. Hutchings: This document came from the Department of Fisheries
and Oceans, from one of the key marine mammal scientists doing this work.
Senator Oliver: What year? What date?
Mr. Hutchings: This was sent to me last week.
Senator Oliver: Is it research done in 2011-12?
Mr. Hutchings: Basically it is the most recent information. Some
of that new information I mentioned to you was from 2010, when the samples
were taken. As in 2009, 100 seal stomachs were examined. The sample size of
seals was 100, as it was in the previous year and, I believe, in 2011.
These data have not yet been peer reviewed through the DFO system, but
these are the raw data, so this will probably stand up to DFO's system.
Senator Oliver: Of the 100 grey seals used in that sample, what
was the average weight?
Mr. Hutchings: That I do not know.
Senator Oliver: Where were the seals? Did you say they were off
the northern coast of Nova Scotia? How far out and what was the depth of the
Mr. Hutchings: It was around St. Paul Island, which is not far off
the coast, relatively speaking. That is where most, if not all, of the seals
were shot and their stomachs examined thereafter. That was in November,
December and January, when the cod tend to be aggregated in that area.
Senator Oliver: You said that when they opened the stomachs, 60
per cent of what they found was cod. What else did they find? Was there
mackerel, herring, haddock and hake? What were the percentages?
Mr. Hutchings: Honestly, I cannot tell you that. However, I might
make a recommendation to you, if I may, to invite the key marine mammal
scientist responsible for this research to appear before your committee when
you come to Halifax at the end of March. He would be the one to answer those
Senator Oliver: You spoke very quickly and covered an awful lot of
ground. You talked about the heightened risk of extinction of certain
species, about depleted species and about the silver hake. You gave scary
statistics about their futures. What I did not understand about what you
said about the silver hake is what is causing this. Why are they on the
verge of going away forever?
Mr. Hutchings: To clarify, it was white hake; silver hake is
another type of hake.
White hake is a species that was directly commercially targeted as a
fishery, as with cod and many other species, for a number of years. It was
overfished and, as a consequence, the white hake fell to very low levels of
abundance. We are learning now, which 20 years ago I do not think many
fisheries scientists would have thought, that when fish populations fall
below a certain level — and we do not know exactly what that level is —
their chances of recovery become much lower than we previously thought.
Classic fisheries modeling always predicted that if you simply drop a fish
population to an extremely low level, it will bounce back if you stop
fishing. That was the expectation, but we are now learning painfully that
that is not always the case. White hake was one of those species that we
overfished and drove to very low levels. White hake has a behavioral pattern
not dissimilar to that of cod, so they also find themselves, at certain
times of the year, more aggregated and grouped together than at other times
of the year.
There is a recent paper by several Fisheries and Oceans scientists
entitled Evaluating the potential for grey seal predation to explain
elevated natural mortality in three fish species in the southern Gulf of St.
Lawrence. When I talk about some of these elevated natural mortality
rates, it comes from this peer review.
Senator Oliver: What are the three species?
Mr. Hutchings: The three that I mentioned: the winter skate, the
white hake and the Atlantic cod.
Senator Oliver: You mentioned, and Senator Harb picked up on this
and made a great to-do about it, that if you were to have a cull of grey
seals it might mean that you will have mackerel and herring eating the roe
of the cod and you may not get ahead at all with this cull. In the heyday of
the cod in Atlantic Canada, when there were so many you could walk across
the ocean on their backs, what were the mackerel and herring eating? Were
they eating cod roe?
Mr. Hutchings: They probably were. I should also say that the
basis for this set of predictions also comes from work by DFO scientists.
They looked at cod productivity — basically the production of young cod on
an annual basis. They noticed that in the 1960s, the productivity of young
cod in the southern gulf was relatively low, but the abundance of mackerel
and herring was relatively high. In the 1970s, the productivity of cod went
up dramatically. It was extremely high. At that time, herring and mackerel
were relatively low in abundance. Later on, cod productivity went down at
the same time that herring and mackerel abundance went up.
All we can say from a science perspective is that there is a correlation
between the two. We can make some reasonable predictions that it might be a
cause-effect relationship, and it is not unreasonable to think that.
However, as with all science, particularly that in the ocean, there are
these uncertainties that prevent us from drawing firm conclusions. That is
the basis for the herring-mackerel-cod interaction.
Senator Poirier: You talked early on in your presentation about
the high mortality rate and how it will continue increasing. I believe you
mentioned the year 2050 or something like that. Can you tell us the
mortality rate of the cod 30 to 40 years ago before the increase in the
number of grey seals as compared to the rate today?
Mr. Hutchings: That is a really good question. As with a number of
things, it is rather difficult to get a firm grip on what the natural
mortality rates were of cod in the past. It was typically believed that, on
average, about 18 per cent of cod would die every year. The mortality level
for southern gulf cod appears to have gone up in the 1980s for reasons that
are not entirely clear and up even higher in the 1990s. Just to correct one
impression that I do not want to leave, it is not that the mortality of cod
would continue to go up until 2050; it might. The problem though right now
is that at the current levels of death that cod are experiencing, they are
not able to replace themselves. For every female, her chances of living are
so low that she is not able to replace herself over time. It is sort of like
a bank account where you are continually drawing on the principal and the
bank account eventually runs dry.
The predictions made by two Fisheries and Oceans scientists based on
population modeling were that if the current levels of cod mortality did not
change, they could well be gone from the southern gulf by mid-century.
Senator Poirier: I live in a small community that is a fishing
area. I do not remember back many years of hearing the fishermen complain as
much as they are complaining today about some of the problems they are
facing with the decline in the lobster, the cod and everything else that was
going on out there. At the same time, they are worried and they question
because since 1960, the population of the seal has gone from 13,000 to
400,000. At the same time that is going up, we seem to have the mortality
rate going up. I know you say there is no evidence that even if we had the
cull of the seals the cod population would go up again. At the same time,
from the other side, we are hearing a lot from the people out there, and
they are putting two and two together that we had plenty and all of a sudden
one species is going up and other species are going down. They do have
concerns. We have heard arguments from both sides on that.
I am hoping you can help me with this because I do not have it in front
of me and do not remember the exact number: Can you tell me how many pounds
of fish a grey seal can eat in a day?
Mr. Hutchings: I am afraid I cannot give you that.
Senator Poirier: I remember it was quite high when we heard it a
while back. I was going back to your comment that 60 per cent of the food
found in the stomachs of grey seals was cod when DFO did their research in
2009-10. If I remember correctly, it was a high number of pounds that the
grey seal was eating per day. That means that if 60 per cent of that is cod,
that would be a significant amount. With 400,000 seals, all eating 60 per
cent cod, I think that math would be interesting to see.
Mr. Hutchings: It would, although I would suggest extreme caution
in using those figures. I say that for the following reason: These are
samples in one particular area, at one particular time of year, from a
sample of 100 seal stomachs.
What scientists would not typically do is extrapolate from exceedingly
high or low estimates. You would want to come up with an estimate — and it
is somewhat difficult to nail down precisely what some of these diet
estimates would be — over the course of the whole year and not simply take
the 60 per cent at face value and apply that to everything.
I want to go back slightly. The perception of the fishermen and many
others is, indeed, that if one removes grey seals, cod will come back, that
it is a very clear relationship. I want to suggest to the committee that,
because there are multiple species interacting in the ecosystem, there is
scientific uncertainty as to precisely what the response of cod would be.
It might be that the removal of X number of grey seals might have some
positive impact on cod. Maybe it would reduce the annual mortality rate by a
few percentage points. What is the expectation? If one takes away 100,000
seals or 70,000 seals, how many more cod does one expect to have 5, 10, or
20 years from now? When you do those projections, you end up with an
enormous uncertainty because it depends so much on the assumptions that you
make in the analyses. It might very well be that, if one removes grey seals
by culling, it might have a positive impact on cod. Scientifically, however,
you are really not that much further ahead saying that will definitely
happen, as opposed to saying there might not be any impact whatsoever. One
must balance the trade-offs, the pros and cons. Some people will identify
some potential negatives associated with the removal of that many seals. Are
those particular costs, be those national or international, worth the
uncertainty that it will have any positive impact? It might, but we simply
Senator Poirier: We know that, over the years, different things
have been tried to help the population of our fishing industry, whether it
be lobster or cod. The number of licences for fishermen has been reduced.
There have been freezes in certain areas where we could not go on. Different
things have been tried to see if that would help the industry.
All of the evidence that we have been hearing, even what you have given
tonight in talking about the workshop in 2010, determined that the grey seal
could have an impact. You are saying that there is no evidence that the cod
population would increase if there was a cull.
Would you say that we really do not know, that it is fifty-fifty that
reducing the amount of grey seals would be an exercise like we have done in
reducing licences for lobster fishermen? A lot of the evidence, and a lot of
what you are saying, is that there is no evidence, but, at the same time,
there is some. There seems to be an uncertainty — that would be the word —
as to whether or not it would help. Part of the role and responsibility that
we have is to at least try something to see what can work out there. Would
you agree with me that it is fifty-fifty that this would help?
Mr. Hutchings: I am not sure if it is fifty-fifty, but I want to
reiterate what I said earlier. One can find some science- based predictions
that would concur with what you are suggesting, that if one removes grey
seals, cod would increase in abundance. However, one can also use different
assumptions in these mathematical models and end up with the conclusion that
any benefit might be negligible. The uncertainty lies in which set of
assumptions are the most appropriate ones to make. We are really not in a
position where we can credibly say that this set of assumptions is much
better than another set of assumptions. This could be a management action
for which there might not be any benefit realized by cod, analogous to some
of the other management actions you mentioned. However, unlike some of those
other management actions, the image of killing off tens of thousands of
seals might be of more cost to Canada's image and other things, especially
if the benefits are likely to be negligible. Ultimately, it is a management
decision, and every management decision needs to be one that views the costs
and benefits of taking that management action.
As I indicated in my presentation, if one were to undertake a cull, it
should be done within a broadly articulated recovery plan, which we
currently do not have. It should also be done as a species recovery or
prevention-of-species- extirpation measure, as opposed to a
fisheries-productivity initiative. Frankly, humans have not been very good
at managing ocean ecosystems.
The one thing we can do is manage catch. That is one thing, in theory,
that we can do well. When humans start to manipulate ecosystems, often the
consequences are not what they are intended to be.
At the end of the day, the consequences might not be what they hope they
would be. The benefits might be small or large, but the costs of the action
could, almost certainly, be viewed to be quite large. You have those large
costs and possibly minimal benefits, but possibly larger benefits. It is
really difficult at this point. I do not mean to keep repeating myself, but
it could be defensible from a species-at-risk perspective.
Senator Poirier: We talk a lot about the cod, but I think the
worry goes beyond cod at this point; it is also all the groundfish that we
are starting to have more and more problems with in the last few years. I
know we talked a lot about the cod because it was an issue for so long, but
we are starting to see issues with the groundfish also.
Mr. Hutchings: Indeed, the average size of the fish in the
southern gulf has declined dramatically when one looks at the fish community
The Chair: I wish to advise you that we will not have time for a
second round. We have four more senators asking questions.
Senator Chaput: As I listen to your responses to Senator Poirier,
what strikes me is that studies are being done, data is being collected, yet
we do not have enough answers. We have not done enough tests or experiments
to be able to say if such and such an action would be beneficial or not.
In the case of grey seals, what are the main deficiencies in the data
that we have already collected that are preventing a decision from being
made? What other kind of data do we need?
Mr. Hutchings: That is an extremely good question. It would be
easy to say that we require more diet samples, but we are starting to see
almost the entire range of possibility. We have some studies that suggest
that cod make up an extremely small percentage of seal diet. We have other
samples that suggest that cod make up a relatively large part of the seal
diet. I think there will be individuals who will constantly say that we need
more diet samples. I am not sure that we do.
I think that the key scientific uncertainty — and I am not sure that we
are actually in a position to get at this in a confident way — is to better
understand the interactions between these different species.
For example, if we reduce grey seals, then the things that grey seals are
currently feeding upon will likely increase in abundance. Some of those
might compete with cod and other fish, they might eat cod or other fish, or
they might provide more food for cod and, thus, be a benefit. That is what
we do not understand.
At some level, we like to simplify things, and I think that is often an
appropriate thing to do, and view things as a single predator, single prey —
cod and seals. However, from a science perspective, the key uncertainty lies
in knowing that when you change the abundance of one species, what is likely
to happen to the abundance of all the others? That is a rather difficult
scientific uncertainty to grapple with.
Senator Chaput: Relating to scientists, do you not see some kind
of imbalance now in marine life, with all the potential consequences on its
health? If so, is it not time now to make suggestions or to take some action
in order to correct this imbalance? It seems to me that one cannot always
get answers to all the questions that one may have. How can we then make a
decision in that context?
Mr. Hutchings: There is an imbalance. There is definitely an
imbalance, and that imbalance in the ecosystem was driven by us. We are the
ones who have created that imbalance. Now that we have created that
imbalance, the imbalance is apparently so serious that at least three
species of fish might be gone from Canadian waters, where they have existed
for an extremely long period of time. Human actions have led to a situation,
an imbalance, that is threatening the persistence of some fish species.
Having created that imbalance, the question then becomes one of, is there
anything we can do to restore that balance? Again, humans are not very good
at restoring balance in ecosystems. We are not good at modifying nature. We
are actually rather bad at that. I think a lot of people would be wary about
Ultimately, at the end of the day, there will not be a clear scientific
answer to the question of how cod will respond to a cull of grey seals. I
think decisions to take any action will only partly have a scientific basis.
It will ultimately be a set of values that one uses to say humans created
the imbalance and we will try to rectify that. It is up to society to decide
whether the killing of marine mammals is worth it or not. Society might well
decide that it is worth it. From a science perspective, science is reaching
the limits of what it can confidently and credibly predict would result from
a cull of grey seals. Ultimately, the decision whether or not to do it not
will not be a science one but will have to be based on something else.
Senator MacDonald: Thank you for being here. You are a man with a
great reputation in this area, and I am grateful to have you here to speak
You talked about a set of assumptions and how difficult it is to deal
with this with any certainty. I would like to go back to what you talked
about in regard to a broadly articulated recovery plan.
I do not think most reasonable people look at the culling of animals as a
good thing to do, but perhaps a necessary thing to do. Although I am not a
scientist, I always see the culling of an animal as part of a solution. What
would you see as the other part of the solution? I ask this because if you
look at the biomass of the cod 20 years ago when the moratorium was put on,
there has been no fishing off Nova Scotia, and yet they have dropped
substantially more. They have pretty well flatlined. It is hard for me to
believe that they would flatline so much when they were left alone and not
being caught. Could you respond to that?
Mr. Hutchings: Indeed. The area you are referring to is the
eastern Scotian shelf from Halifax north to Cape Breton?
Senator MacDonald: Yes.
Mr. Hutchings: You are quite correct. Since the moratorium of
1993, there has been no directed commercial fishery. Of course, cod has been
caught as bycatch, there and elsewhere. It might very well be reasonable to
presume that predation by seals has contributed to the lack of a rapid
recovery by cod. There was a study published in a highly reputable journal
called Nature last year by DFO scientists who were arguing that there
have been positive signs of cod recovery on the eastern Scotian shelf. Some
of us are waiting to see whether the early signs of a trend manifest
themselves and persist for a number of years. Some people think it is too
early to call it a recovery. It might be that seal predation and almost
certainly other factors conspired to keep cod at a low level, but now they
are able to come out of it, again for reasons we do not fully understand.
In the western Scotian shelf, Bay of Fundy, around Shelburne and
Yarmouth, that fishery was never closed. That cod fishery has continued to
take place over time.
Senator MacDonald: Should it have been closed?
Mr. Hutchings: To go back to the early 1990s, it is difficult to
say. I say that because we did not have any reference points, and we still
do not today. I say this time and time again because, in the absence of a
reference point, which ideally will inform you about how far away you are
from what is desirable and how far away you are from something that is
really not desirable, if you do not have those target limit reference
points, it is hard to place the size of a stock in some sort of framework
where you can say this stock is in trouble or it is not so bad after all.
Those were judgment calls back in the early 1990s to close those fisheries
and not based on an assessment of where the stock was relative to these
reference points. They were more based on historical catch levels and
historical population sizes. Whether that fishery should have been closed or
not, probably it need not have been closed, but probably the harvest levels
should have been reduced.
Senator MacDonald: The question about the worms in cod, and
whether or not culling the grey seal will completely change the cod
situation is one thing, but in terms of the level of worm that is found in
cod, it certainly seems to have increased over the years. Do you directly
attribute this to the seal? To continue, I know most people think of it from
the study point of view, but I am just assuming that if an animal is full of
worms, it cannot be good for the animal that is full of the worms. What
effect does this have on the restoration of the stock?
Mr. Hutchings: That is a good biological question. The question is
the degree to which increased parasitism on cod inhibits the recovery of
cod. Unfortunately, what we know about parasites is that they parasitize
cod. We can count how many they have and how many worms and so on, but it is
extremely difficult. I am aware of no studies that have examined,
particularly under controlled conditions, how different levels of parasite
infestation would affect the survival of cod. It probably does, but just how
much we do not know.
You are quite right: Fishermen have observed an increase in seal worm
infestation. It is reducing the quality of cod, certainly on the western
Scotian shelf, by all accounts, but one of the things we still do not fully
understood is the movement of seals between different sites. Again, one
might be faced with a situation where you reduce the seals in one area but
seals from another area move back in. The overall impact, if there was to be
a positive impact, might not be realized. I certainly think it is fair to
conclude that increased incidence of seal worm is probably related to the
increased abundance of grey seals. However, seal worms have always been in
cod in that area, unlike around Newfoundland.
Senator MacDonald: A lot of money has been spent over the years,
particularly on the West Coast, by different hobby groups with regard to
salmon on the West Coast. Of course, the most endangered salmon in the
country are not West Coast salmon but the Atlantic salmon. The whole problem
with the ecosystem in Atlantic Canada — and one of the big problems with the
Atlantic salmon — is do seals eat Atlantic salmon? I do not know.
Mr. Hutchings: Seals do eat salmon. The trouble is it is often
difficult to pick them up in their diet because there are so few salmon. You
are quite right.
Senator MacDonald: Yes, we know. We have to do something about it.
Mr. Hutchings: The salmon in the Bay of Fundy around Nova Scotia
are at extremely low levels, but they have been at low levels for some time.
Senator MacDonald: What are we doing wrong when it comes to
restoring the levels of Atlantic salmon?
Mr. Hutchings: Certainly what has been observed is a higher
mortality at sea than was observed in the past. There are probably some
freshwater issues as well, but it is fair to say that the general science
consensus is that increased mortality at sea by salmon is what is affecting
salmon in the southern part of the range. It is true in Maine and in Europe
as well. Climate change comes into this as well.
If one looks at salmon in the south parts of France, Spain and Portugal,
they are not doing well, either. Whether it is a seal issue here, it is not
a seal issue over there. Climate change is interacting with some of these
things in ways we do not fully understand. We know, for example, in the Gulf
of St. Lawrence that water temperatures have increased two degrees since
1985, that waters below 200 metres in some parts are anoxic. They will not
support biological life right now. There is not enough oxygen today. There
was in the 1960s, but not today. We know the acidity of deep waters in the
southern gulf has gone up by 37 per cent compared to what it was in the
1930s. There are a number of oceanic changes related to climate change that
are compounding some of the more traditional things we have used. Again, it
is simply an expression of caution to assume that it is a strict one-to-one
relationship between seals and cod or seals and salmon because we have
climate change acting in a synergistic or compounding fashion.
Senator MacDonald: I want to ask you about one more species on the
East Coast: the Atlantic whitefish, or the Acadian whitefish around the
Tusket River. This is a rare fish and it is becoming rarer. Do you have any
cause and effect why this fish is disappearing?
Mr. Hutchings: I should because I am on the committee of the
student working on that, but it is only found I think now in one or two
Senator MacDonald: Around the Tusket River mostly.
Mr. Hutchings: Yes, and it is the subject of intense restocking
initiatives. These are fish that do not go to sea; they hang around in the
Senator MacDonald: It could be climate-related as well?
Mr. Hutchings: It could be climate-related. One thing that a lot
of people have hypothesized concerns the input of pesticides and things that
come in from the runoff, from land into the freshwater. One cannot discount
that as another threat.
Senator MacDonald: You mentioned that there is a lot of
uncertainty around which measures will restore the cod fish totally, if one,
two or four measures would do it. However, it is safe to conclude that if it
continues on the road it is now, and we do not do anything and help run its
course, there will be no cod fishery in half a century.
Mr. Hutchings: That would be the prediction for one stock of cod,
and that is southern gulf cod. I want to caution that the other stocks of
cod are growing. Certainly by every indication they could grow if there is
not a fishery.
For example there has been a fishery on the northern gulf and on the west
coast of Newfoundland for several years. It seems clear that the fishery has
inhibited recovery. If we had not reopened the fishery 10 or 12 years ago,
there would be a lot more cod there today than there is. The trouble is,
again, it is like — and I will use the bank account analogy — we have been
scraping off the interest every year instead of allowing the principal to
grow. Dealing with a fish stock is no different than dealing with any
investment portfolio. It is fair to understand why ministers allowed catches
to take place; there is a lot of political pressure to do so. The problem is
that those harvest levels were not done within the context of a broad-scale
recovery plan, so people could not judge how appropriate those harvest
levels were vis-à-vis what the target was meant to be.
One last example: We have a sustainable fisheries framework policy right
now that says that if cod stock or any fish stock falls below its limit
reference point — its conservation level — directed fishing could be kept at
the lowest level possible. That would mean no directed fishery. Northern cod
is estimated by DFO scientists to be 90 per cent below its limit reference
point. It is in an area where DFO's own policy would say there should be no
directed fishing, but there is a directed fishery.
Honestly, one of the key challenges to allowing cod to recover is truly
getting a better handle on our ability to control harvest levels. Other
countries are doing this and have been using recovery targets and so on as
part of their recovery plans. The U.S. has statutory legislation that
prescribes the actions that must be taken if a stock is overfished. We do
not have that here. I would view that, in the broad Canadian sense, to be
the key factor in inhibiting recovery.
Senator Dagenais: Mr. Hutchings, I believe that most of the
questions I wanted to ask have already been put to you, and I would not want
to be redundant. Naturally, I understand that Canada must protect its marine
biodiversity. I seem to have heard you say that we do not have any other
choice than to assess the density of the seal population. Of course, there
has also been talk of culling and biodiversity.
Should we not consider isolating or establishing a frame of reference for
some mammals as well as seals, and would that not allow us to come to a
better understanding of the impact of grey seals on other mammals? Would it
be possible or not to do that for the entire area? I suppose this is not an
easy question, but have we considered, in the past, isolating or
establishing a kind of specific frame of reference?
Mr. Hutchings: Two ways of responding to your question come to
mind. One would be the fact that there are other marine mammals in the
ecosystem that are consuming cod and we have no idea what their diets are. I
am thinking of whales. Whales consume fish. Some whales consume a lot of
fish. These are huge predators capable of consuming lots of prey, but it is
a black hole. We do not know how much cod or other fishes whales are
consuming as a group.
Another response that came to mind would be to ask the question, "Have
grey seals of been this abundance in the past?" We can talk about an
imbalance today. It turns out that that is not as easy an answer as I had
originally thought. If we look at Newfoundland, where there are harp seals,
in the 1800s many harp seals were removed on an annual basis. There is no
way that so many seals could be taken every year without the seal population
being extremely large. We know that very healthy populations of cod, for
example, can co-exist with very large populations of seals. Newfoundland is
a good example.
What makes it a little trickier in the Maritimes is that we cannot
necessarily say that there were 400,000 grey seals in the past, in part
because there was an even greater predator that no longer exists, and that
is the walrus.
The walrus used to exist in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence,
Newfoundland, and was a massive beast that was gone from that area in the
1600s or early 1700s. What we do not know is how they co-existed with the
grey seals. It is difficult to say whether cod, even healthy populations of
cod, have co-existed with grey seals in the past. Of course, we do not know
what impact walrus had, even though they tended to eat things on the bottom.
Nonetheless, it is another factor that is difficult to control.
Senator Raine: I have a curiosity question. You talked about the
research done on the contents of seals' stomachs. We have heard anecdotal
reports from fishermen that they are finding a lot of fish with only the
stomachs bitten out of them. That fish would not be in the seal's stomach;
just the bite would be in there. Was that found in the contents of the
stomachs examined? They were saying that there seemed to be a lot of fish
dying without the whole fish being eaten.
Mr. Hutchings: That is sort of referred to as belly biting.
Senator Raine: Yes.
Mr. Hutchings: Indeed, fishermen have long made the point that
they have experiences with cod as being one good example of where the belly
has been taken out, but the rest of the fish has not been consumed. There
are a couple of ways of ascertaining what seals consume. One of those
methods, sort of a traditional method, depends on the ear bones from the
head of the cod being found in the stomach of the seal. These ear bones
allow fish to hear, basically. You can age a cod from its ear bone by
counting how many rings there are. If the seal did not consume the head of a
cod or some bony parts, then you certainly could not tell what size or age
of cod had been consumed, and you could not necessarily tell how many cod
had been consumed.
There is another methodology being used called a fatty acid analysis. A
key person who does that work is Dr. Sara Iverson at Dalhousie University.
They take samples of the blubber of marine mammals, such as seals, and look
at the fatty acid signature of the blubber and compare that to the fatty
acids found in cod, herring or mackerel to try to find a way to determine
what the diet is based on the fatty acid signatures. That can tend to be
somewhat species-specific. Those are the two ways.
We really do not know what percentage of cod might be consumed by belly
biting. There is reason to believe that some of the belly biting anecdotes
might be, not farfetched, but perhaps a consequence of seals following trawl
nets and taking cod that way. It is one of those areas that we have no firm
Senator Raine: It is interesting because the science of studying
the ecosystem has been going on for a long time. It is almost like in the
end, someone has to come to a number. You want a number, but who is
responsible for that? You say you want to set recovery targets and a plan,
but if we wait too long to do that, we could lose some species.
How fast can these recovery targets be determined? Whose job is it to do
so? Can we get it done quickly or will it not happen?
Mr. Hutchings: We could do it tomorrow. The job would be for
Fisheries and Oceans scientists. Indeed, Fisheries and Oceans scientists
have been working for at least 10 years in anticipation of the requirement
for incorporating the precautionary approach to identify what these target
limit and reference points would be. The methodology for doing so has
existed for quite some time. The United States, Australia, New Zealand,
South Africa, Norway and parts of Europe are already using a fairly
agreed-upon method for identifying these reference points.
Limit reference points have just been identified or quantified for cod
but target reference points have not. It is part of the sustainable
fisheries framework of DFO to do this; but it has not yet been done. The
methodology for doing so exists, and it has been practised in other
countries. The people who would do it would be stock assessment scientists
The Chair: Thank you, professor; you have certainly been a wealth
of information to the members around the table as we continue our study. We
thank you for your time, advice and suggestions. I am sure we will be
referring to your comments.
When Senator Oliver was asking you some questions, you referred to a
report that was carried out by DFO mammal scientists. Do you have the name
of the scientist?
Mr. Hutchings: Are you referring to the examination of the seal
stomachs and the person who might be invited? His name is Mike Hammill from
The Chair: We just want to make sure we have the right person.
Once again, thank you very much. We will recess for a couple of minutes and
then go in camera to discuss a couple of items.