At a news conference today, John Efford, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, called on all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and especially members of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers, the Fisheries Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Newfoundland and Labrador Salmonid Council and other industry stakeholders to join him in speaking with one strong, unequivocal voice to federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister David Anderson urging the federal minister to recognize the severity of harp seal predation on cod and other groundfish stocks. He called again for the federal minister to put a management plan in place for the harp seal herd which will benefit the entire marine ecosystem impacted upon by such a large herd, now estimated to be at least six million animals.
Mr. Efford also asked that all conservation groups align themselves with this cause, particularly since there is increasing concern about the numbers of seals congregating at the mouths of our salmon rivers and preying upon the salmon. He pointed out that the same situation B seal predation on salmon - on the coast of British Columbia was so serious that federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Anderson had to sanction a seal cull.
During the news conference Mr. Efford released new and alarming video footage of the extent of harp seal predation on cod stocks in the Bonavista Bay area of the province. The minister also displayed samples of cod which had their livers ripped out by harp seals, which discard the remainder of the fish.
Mr. Efford said: "All Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a vested interest in a healthy fishery. If we continue to remain silent on the harp seal issue and by our silence let Ottawa decide on the best course of action, we might as well roll over and die. Ottawa played a role in the decline of our groundfish fishery. Are we now going to remain silent and let Ottawa decide on the ways and means of its complete destruction?
"Every Newfoundlander and Labradorian, not just those directly involved in the fishery or who belong to related organizations, must stand up and be counted in order to save it. The first step is to tell the federal fisheries minister that he must take action, not next year, but now. And the federal minister's first course of action is to put in place a management plan for the harp seal herd which brings balance into the marine ecosystem and ensures the long-term sustainability of the herd for the growing sealing industry in this province and the marine ecosystem.
"We have all the evidence necessary for the federal minister to recognize that the bourgeoning harp seal herd is interfering significantly with the reestablishment of our groundfish stocks. While I can appreciate Mr. Anderson's desire to have a count of the herd completed this year before he makes a final management plan decision, time is running out, especially if the count cannot be completed because of striking Canadian Coast Guard employees.
"I would hope that I can speak on behalf of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians when I say, `Mr. Anderson, the evidence is in and the clock is ticking. Use the evidence provided by the people of this province to develop and put in place a harp seal management plan before the marine ecosystem is destroyed by inaction.'"
The video footage released by Mr. Efford was obtained March 1 and 2, 1999, by local Bonavista Bay divers/fishermen. The minister was first alerted to the situation in late February by Lloyd Oldford of Red Cliff, Bonavista Bay, who was concerned over the decimation by seals of cod trapped in Big Chance Harbour. Attempts at that time to travel to the area with the media to observe the situation first hand were thwarted by weather conditions. During that time, too, additional calls also came into the minister's office from other Bonavista Bay residents all reporting the same situation B tens of thousands of cod lying dead at the bottom of the bay with only the liver missing. The video footage is a reflection of similar instances which occurred over the last five to six years and are still occurring in other bays and harbours along the province's coastline.
"Rather than being subjected to weather conditions, the only way we could quickly and easily collect the evidence was to have divers take the footage we needed. An underwater camera was borrowed from the Marine Institute and, along with one of our cameras, was shipped to the area for use. And that is what you see here today," said Mr. Efford.
Mr. Efford concluded the news conference by saying: "I don't want to oversimplify the problems in the fishery - for there are other serious issues that need to be addressed apart from the size of the harp seal herd. And I don't want the harp seal herd to be seen as the only cause of those problems, for it isn't. I do, however, ask all residents of Newfoundland and Labrador to call upon federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Anderson to come to grips with this serious public policy issue."
For further information and copies of the video contact:
1999 03 09 1:10 p.m.