Mr. Speaker, in response to (i), the Government of Canada is committed to supporting a sustainable, humane, and well-regulated seal harvest in Atlantic Canada. It is important that the harvesting of seals be supported by market demand, where full utilization of seal products such as meat, oil, and pelts is encouraged. Despite a significant allocation of grey seals available for harvest, and continued issuance of commercial and personal use licences, very few grey seals have been taken in recent years. Grey seal harvest levels remain much lower than that which could be taken while still maintaining a healthy and stable seal population.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada is working with indigenous and commercial seal product stakeholders to invest in projects that improve market access for seal products. Through the certification and market access program for seals, or CMAPS, established in 2015, Canada will contribute $5.7 million over five years toward innovative projects aimed at developing new products or accessing new markets for seal products. Approximately one third of this contribution is for the commercial sealing industry.
A grey seal working group was established in 2017 upon recommendation from stakeholders at the Atlantic seal advisory committee meeting in March 2017. The purpose of this working group is to promote and advance the grey seal fishery by exploring regulatory, policy, and management changes that would facilitate future grey seal harvests and subsequent product development. Members include representatives from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, from the science, resource management, and trade and international market access branches; external experts; provincial governments; aboriginal groups; and industry stakeholders from Atlantic Canada and Quebec. The most recent meeting of the grey seal working group took place in December 2017, with a fall meeting planned for 2018.
In response to (ii), the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or DFO, continues to study the interactions between grey seals and their prey, in collaboration with independent scientific experts and the fishing industry, to improve our understanding of the complex relationships between grey seals and other components of the Atlantic coastal ecosystem.
DFO’s analysis has shown that while there is evidence that some individual seals in estuaries of the maritime provinces eat some Atlantic salmon, past and current research has not identified salmon as a staple of their diets, nor is predation deemed a significant factor influencing the Atlantic salmon population trends. There is no scientific evidence to support a dietary preference for salmon by seals.
While capelin can comprise up to about 30% of grey seal diets in some areas in the spring, roughly May to July, there is no evidence that grey seals have a significant impact on capelin populations and distribution. Various oceanographic factors such as ice conditions and the timing of the production of phytoplankton and zooplankton, capelin food, are expected to be among the main drivers of capelin populations.
The most recent science advice, from 2010, states that predation by grey seals is considered to be a significant component of cod natural mortality in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence area only. Under natural mortality rates observed at that time, growth of the cod stock was not likely unless productivity was to increase well above levels observed over the previous decade. There is no new and definitive science advice available that specifically links grey seal predation to impacts on cod in areas beyond the southern gulf, including northern cod populations.
The department will continue to monitor and review the impacts of grey seals on important fish stocks. In considering any management actions involving grey seals in the future, the department will consult with scientific experts and affected stakeholders to ensure that any measures put forward are achievable, humane, and responsible, and that they will have a tangible, long-term impact on the recovery of important fish stocks, without compromising the sustainability of the grey seal population.