Cull suggested for Nova Scotia’s Sable Island

A federal report proposing a massive seal cull on Nova Scotia’s Sable Island has drawn the ire of environmentalists who say it is unjustifiable and would turn the famed island, known for its wild horses and isolated, windswept beaches, into an international embarrassment for Canada.

The report, prepared last year for the federal Fisheries Department, proposes the slaughter of an estimated 220,000 seals over a five-year period.

Obtained under access-to-information legislation and posted online by The Coast weekly newspaper in Halifax, the report lays out in grisly detail, potential plans for controlling the island’s grey seal population, which is estimated at 300,000.

One proposed plan is an “immunocontraceptive” vaccine program aimed at the female population of grey seals.

The other, and more attention-grabbing plan, is a cull that would kill 100,000 seals in the first year, and 30,000 in each of the following four years – the killing would take place during the winter months and involve shooters using rifles.

To avoid the animals being “spooked” by the sound of gun blasts, silencers are recommended to be used. But since silencers are illegal in Canada, the devices likely would have to be imported from the United States, where they are legal. That would, the report said, mean special permits would have to be obtained, under guidelines of Canada’s Firearms Act.

The report also recommends the killing of baby seals because without their mothers, they would be left to starve.

The report says the fishing industry blames the seal population for overconsuming fish stocks, for disturbing feeding and spawning patterns of fish, and for destroying fishing gear, among other things.

Mark Butler, the policy director for the Ecology Action Centre, a Halifax-based environmental advocacy group, said such a cull would have to be kept up for years to come to be successful, something he said simply isn’t warranted.

“I don’t think the fishing industry in justified going in there and (killing thousands of) seals when they haven’t cleaned up their own act,” Butler said.

Earlier this year, the Nova Scotia and federal governments said they would team to designate Sable Island as either a national park or a national wildlife area.

Butler said he’s dubious such a project would be undertaken in an area destined to be a national park.

“But one can never underestimate . . . there’s been some very foolish schemes,” he said.

He said that given the international opposition the seal hunt already faces, a massive cull on Sable Island would be a “gong show.”

Butler said some of the reasons species flourish is because their natural predators have been eliminated. He cited the fact that there are some sharks that hunt seals, and that sharks have been overfished.

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