Intensive factory fishing wiped out cod stocks on the Canadian Grand Banks. Now seals are being killed in record numbers in a hunt justified by the bogus claim that seals are preventing cod stocks recover.
Why did one of the world's most productive fishing grounds
collapse?Why were there seemingly plenty of cod one year and none
the next? Howcome more seals are being killed? The answer is a mix
of history, greedand one bad decision after another.
The Newfoundland Grand Banks, off the east coast of Canada, used
tobe famous as amazingly productive fishing grounds. The first
Europeanexplorers described the waters as being so full of cod you
just had tolower a basket into the water to bring up it up full of
cod. In thecenturies that followed, abundant fish stocks drew many
people toNewfoundland. Small inshore boats took sustainable amounts
of cod forcenturies up to the 1950s. The bounty of the Grand Banks
was enough forlocal and small-scale fishing and a healthy
population of millions ofharp seals.
Invasion of the fishing factories
changed for the worse during the 1950's and 60's.
Technologicaladvances in trawler design and power were modelled on
the factorywhaling ships that had devastated the last remaining
whale populations.These huge factory trawlers came from distant
countries attracted bythe seemingly endless bounty of the fishery.
With huge nets they couldhoover up massive quantities of fish,
quickly processing anddeep-freezing the catch, working around the
clock in all but the worstweather conditions. In an hour they can
haul up as much as 200 tons offish, twice as much as a typical 16th
century ship would have caught inan entire season.
The cod catch steadily increased to 800,000 tonnes in 1968 but
thiswas the peak of the clearly unsustainable catches. By 1975 the
annualcatch had fallen by more than 60 percent. Catches of other
fish werealso plummeting under the relentless fishing pressure.
This forcedCanada to extend its fishing limit for foreign vessels
from 12 miles to200 miles from its coast.
Rather than using this rule to reduce fishing pressure on the
codthe Canadian Government and fishing industry saw a massive cash
bonanza- now exclusively for Canadians. Huge investments and
governmentsubsides poured into the construction of the same
destructive factorytrawlers so big money could be made from the
cod. In the short termcatches rose again and the industry
prospered. But beneath the wavesthe huge trawl nets were not only
scooping up cod and anything in theirpath but the heavy gear was
ploughing up the seabed and destroying thedelicate ecosystem. The
Grand Banks ecosystem was already on borrowedtime.
cod declined the factory trawlers used powerful sonar and
satellitenavigation to target the few remaining large shoals of
cod, especiallyduring the breeding season when they gather in large
numbers. Againshort-term expediency was winning out over the
long-term health of thefishery.
During the 1980s cod catches remained steady but that was
becauselarger, more powerful and sophisticated vessels were chasing
the fewremaining fish. Traditional inshore fishermen had already
noticed theircatches declining but the government preferred to
listen to theindustrial fishing companies which claimed there was
no problem.Scientific warnings in the late 80s went unheeded
because any cut incatches would cause politically unacceptable job
By 1992 the levels of Northern cod were the lowest ever
measured.The government was forced to close the fishery, throwing
30,000 peopleout of work and devastating many fishing communities.
Despite the ban,stocks have yet to recover and it is uncertain if
they will fullyrecover given the changes wrought on the Grand Banks
ecosystem bydecades of industrial fishing.
Enter the new villain - seals!
Having overseen and subsidised the destruction of the Grand
Banksfishery the Canadian Government now pays out billions of
dollars oftaxpayers' money in social security to out-of-work
fishermen andcommunities in Newfoundland. Rather than recognise
that it caused thecollapse of the ecosystem it has been busy
looking for a new scapegoat.
Because cod stocks have failed to recover the popular
government"common sense" claim is this: it must be because harp
seals are eatingall the cod and preventing their recovery.
Seals make an expedient target to blame for politicians.
TheCanadian government increased the seal hunt quota during the
1990's andin 2003 announced both the permanent closure of the cod
fishery and ahuge increase in the hunt to 350,000 seals.
The simplistic claim that seals eat too many cod is the same
flawedargument (whales are eating too much fish) that whaling
nations now useto call for the resumption of commercial whaling.
Checking a few simplefacts exposes this sham. Cod make up only
about 3 percent of theaverage harp seal's diet. That diet also
includes species that eatyoung cod. There is no science to back the
claim that seals arepreventing the recovery of the cod. In 1995, 97
scientists signed apetition on the subject: "All scientific efforts
to find an effect ofseal predation on Canadian groundfish stocks
have failed to show anyimpact. Overfishing remains the only
scientifically demonstratedconservation problem related to fish
The human greed that caused the collapse of the cod fishery
shouldnot be an excuse to start pushing another species in the same
ecosystemto dangerously low levels, especially when no one knows
for sure whateffects this will have.
You don't manage an ecosystem by beating it to death.
million signature petition against sealing.
Detailed info on
the collapse of the Canadian cod fishery.
quotes against the misleading seals eat cod argument.
Fishing" Decimated Newfoundland Cod.
campaign against the Canadian Seal Hunt.