Amid the worldwide tsunami of bad news and sadness one searches for a trickle of positivity; something to celebrate.
For some time there has been a group, operating under the banner of the Pacific Balance Marine Management (PBMM), that has been lobbying to convince the government, and to garner public support, to legalize a commercial hunt for seals and sea lions on Canada’s west coast. The argument is the usual one – too many sea lions eating too many salmon (of commercial value, of course) in a region in need of employment and revenue. In an effort to seem to be attune to rapidly growing public awareness of just how badly our species has damaged the ecosphere upon which the survival of us all depends, a nuance was added: the seals and sea lions were eating fish needed by endangered orcas, whose own survival was thus compromised.
Fishermen commonly scapegoat any species that eats fish, blaming them for declines in the fish they want, seeing each desired fish consumed by something else as one belonging to them as if by divine right. Governments are motivated to go along with the idea in the hope of absolving themselves from accountability for the real threats to commercial fisheries, such as oil pollution, plastic pollution, toxic waste, nutriment overloading from agriculture and other human waste products, climate change, damage to breeding grounds from politically advantageous commercial development, and, to a huge degree, overfishing.
It is not seals and sea lions that threaten salmon, but deforestation that degrades upstream breeding habitat of salmon, the dams put across rivers, and the relentless pursuit of profit; and lately, it seems, the dissemination of disease and parasites from coastal fish farms. The two species food chains envisioned by the would-be seal killers fail to take into account a complexity of multi-species interactions within a dynamic environment that is difficult for non-scientists to comprehend, and so, it is hoped, is ignored, along with the scientists.
Once we realized that the science did not support PBMM claims, we pointed out that the notorious east coast commercial hunt for harp seals demonstrated that there was nearly no market for seal products, notwithstanding decades of effort in research and development into commercially viable seal products and efforts to find markets, funded by Canadian tax dollars.
Last year, a video that showed fishermen lobbing explosive devices into a pack of west coast sea lions went viral. Charges were laid.
And then, the headless sea lions started to appear. Bodies, reportedly including at least one of the endangered Steller’s sea lion, began to wash ashore along Vancouver Island’s coastline. There is a market for the intact skulls of mature sea lions.
There are only seals, no sea lions, on the east coast (and the seal skulls are often bashed or shot to kill the animal at any rate) but for skulls of the northern fur seal, Steller’s sea lion, and California sea lion, and maybe even the smaller harbor seal, all found on the west coast, there is some demand.
The good news? Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which manages marine mammals, has confirmed that no permits will be issued to PBMM or anyone to allow commercial hunting of west coast pinnipeds – seals, fur seals, and sea lions. Of course, we must remain vigilant. But for now, our west coast pinnipeds remain protected in Canada!