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'Seals destroy cod stocks'

Last Updated: Friday, November 10, 2000 | 11:53 PM ET

Newfoundland's Minister of Fisheries John Efford has stepped up his campaign for an increased seal kill.

Efford called a news conference in St. John's to show a video of the impact seals are having on cod.

The minister is asking the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to act before seals eat the last remaining cod. Startling videos are a tactic often employed by the anti-sealing lobby.

Diver examines dead cod
Diver examines dead cod

But Efford had a video of his own. "Just the sight of that alone brings out the fear of what the future holds for the groundfish industry."

An underwater video shows hundreds of dead cod with their stomachs torn out, lying on the ocean floor.

Another scene shows cod swimming on the surface, fins above the water, driven to shore by hungry seals.

Efford calls the footage evidence of an ecological disaster and the most serious problem facing the recovery of cod stocks. "Seven years after the moratorium the biomass of Northern cod is worse than it was pre-1992."

Efford says that's because seals are eating 140,000 tonnes of a cod a year, while many fishermen can't earn a living.

But Efford's video didn't convince the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The group's Rick Smith says he stands behind past opinions of Canadian scientists.

"Scientists in Canada and internationally have been saying for years that there is no credible scientific evidence that seals either cause the decline in cod stocks or that seals are impeding the recovery of cod stocks," Smith says.

The fisherman who shot the video is sure the seals are to blame. Lloyd Olford says seals are herding cod into bays and coves and killing them along hundreds of kilometres of coastline.

"Since about January month you don't have to go to a certain place to see dead fish on the bottom or fish floating up with the stomach tore off it. It's everywhere," Olford says.

Industry representatives also turned out to support Efford's stand. But the federal government, which manages the seal herd, wasn't on hand to see the new video. It wants to complete a head count this spring before making a decision on culling the herd. Right now it's estimated at about 5 million animals.

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