Letter to the Editor of the Inky&Mirror
The headline of the front-page article on gray seals in last Thursday’s edition of the Inky&M proclaims in bold letters that the “Seal problem is recognized…” but it does not go on to say what the problem is. Drawing on a very limited study of 900 respondents by a university-based social scientist, the article states that in addressing the undefined problem the seals’ “importance to the ecosystem” take priority. The problem is that the burgeoning gray seal population poses a potential threat to the coastal ecosystem. The Seal Action Committee (SAC) has made the negative ecosystem impact of gray seals dramatically clear in a film on Muskeget Island (entitled “Unintended Consequences”) that can be viewed on the SAC website (www.sealactioncommittee.com/actions). The SAC, whose purpose is to advocate the sensible management of our shores (and whom the author of the opinion survey did not interview) plans to make studies of the gray seal impact on the ecosystem (including, for example, predation on forage fish) a high priority.
The SAC couples the placing of a premium on the preservation of a balanced marine ecosystem with the preservation of Nantucket Island itself as a premier destination for all beach goers: swimmers, surfers and fishermen alike. The article suggests that this might be overtaken by a seal viewing tourist boom; but we doubt that this would either offset the loss of revenue from seasonal anglers who are now, on account of the gray seals, forsaking the Island in droves or be welcomed by a hearty Nantucket population whose entire history has been tied to the active recreational, traditional and commercial use of the waters surrounding it which the gray seal population surge is now placing in jeopardy.
Peter F. Krogh
President Seal Action Committee
Must Be Addressed
To the Editor:
The I&M has appropriately supported the effort led by Pete Kaizer to curtail the small-mesh squid trawling that is impacting our fishery. Less attention has been given to another issue that is also affecting our fishery, and that is the now-clearly-evident recovery of our gray seal population. No question that recovery is up to a point–a good thing. But we have learned that our marine environment is an interdependent and finely-balanced ecosystem, and too much of even a good thing can throw things out of balance.
At last week’s annual meeting in North Falmouth of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, a full day was devoted to a discussion of our rebounding gray seal population, and one of the headline announcements was that re- cent research has now deter- mined there are upwards of 50,000 gray seals in Cape and Islands waters. One of the downsides of that dramatic recovery was evident during recent visits to Great Point. What was once one of the great fishing destinations on the East Coast is now effectively a seal refuge, with hauled-out seals everywhere. Even though we were up- wind, the stench was palpable. I almost inadvertently stumbled on one young seal that was tucked against the steps leading in to the light- house. The number of gray seals in our waters has reached a point at which they have to be impacting our forage fishery and the marine ecosystem.
This issue needs more attention than it has been given, as was evident at the recent small-mesh squid meeting where a number of old-timers raised the seal issue. While we may applaud the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s success in restoring the gray-seal population, we should also ask: when does success be- come excess? Why do gray seals require continued extraordinary protection when they have demonstrably recovered and, as a dominant predator, their numbers may be threatening other co-existing, competing and prey species? The simple answer is that it’s the law, which requires protection of marine mammals in perpetuity regardless of stock status and the effect on the ecosystem.
Which brings me to my point. I hope our newly-elected officials at all levels of government will recognize that just as we must address long deferred local issues, such as elder-care and affordable housing, and national issues such as our bloated tax code and failing infrastructure, so must we address outdated regulations affecting our environment. The Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed in 1972 when the focus was on protecting individual species, not the ecosystem at large. That act needs to be updated to provide for delisting of re- covered species (as is provided for in the Endangered Species Act) in the interests of a balanced ecosystem. Likewise, we need to prevent the further depletion of our fishery, and particularly our forage-fish stocks, by supporting the bill in the state legislature to extend the mobile-gear closure to the state waters surrounding Nantucket, thereby effectively updating the 1930s legislation that protects the other 90 per- cent of Massachusetts coastal communities.
Gray Seal Research Fund
Letter to the Washington Post.
The June 15 news article “Scientists find booming recovery for gray seals” quoted Peter Krogh, my co-founder and co-director of the Nantucket, MA-based Seal Action Committee. Nantucket is arguably ground zero for the human-seal interaction resulting from the gray seal recovery.
The article quoted David Johnston: “We should be celebrating the recovery of gray seals as a conservation success,” and asks the question: “What happens after success?” I suggest there is a reason the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which administers the Marine Mammal Protection Act, is not celebrating. The act protects seals and other marine mammals in perpetuity, regardless of stock status. It does not address what happens when a marine mammal population recovers. Since the act neither provides for de-listing nor managing recovered species, it would appear NOAA has little motivation to acknowledge that gray seals have demonstrably recovered, much less celebrate the gray seal “conservation success.”
Continued protection of gray seals means the indefinite proliferation of a large and dominant species with few natural predators — great white sharks are the only significant predator. That may affect the ecosystem, including prey species. There is considerable evidence that’s already occurring.
The act is flawed in not providing for de-listing recovered species (as does the Endangered Species Act) and in its focus on protecting particular species at the expense of a balanced ecosystem.
Recent Letters to the Editor
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Gray seals are making a huge comeback
The June 14th, 2017 article on grey seal populations references a false statement from David Johnston, that “there is little evidence that seals actually compete with fishermen.” The article reports a threefold increase in grey seal population size while local groundfish populations steadily decline. Grey seals are a dominant predator and opportunistic feeder competing for food with all other ecosystem participants including fishermen. Suggesting otherwise is to deny known grey seals feeding requirements.
Scientists from the Swedish Board of Fisheries, NAFO, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, have extensively examined grey seals’ impacts on marine ecosystems finding they imperil forage fish stocks like herring, other stocks like cod, and threaten the entire marine food web including species like Atlantic salmon and Bluefin tuna. Many fish populations in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence are now critically low and will, according to scientists, face certain extirpation unless the grey seal population is reduced. Science recommendations and decisions by Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to pursue a “targeted removal of grey seals” are the consequence of evidence presented in peer reviewed scientific publications.
Aboriginals harvested grey seals for millennia prior to European settlement, and our Aboriginal colleagues are now imploring governments to act regarding seal overpopulation in defense of our precious marine ecosystems. Abdicating our responsibility to manage seal numbers is a failure to meet international commitments to promote biodiversity and to restore major fish stocks to Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2020, as called for under UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.
Managing Member, SIFF Capital Management LLC
Zveta Global Advisors, Inc.