July 18, 2012 -- The unintended consequence of protecting mammals such as seals and porpoises could mean even more of an imbalance in the food chain this fall, fishermen fear. Fishermen will be banned by federal law, starting in the autumn, from catching fish in an area where mammals – and groundfish – abound.
If the itty bitty cod are a seal’s favorite meal, and the seals
continue to provide gourmet fodder for the Great White sharks, well,
someone’s going to need a bigger boat.
Numerous scientists and
fishermen have been equating the plethora of shark sightings this summer
with the plethora of seals – which sharks crave – as well as with the
perplexing absence of cod, which seals chow down in astounding amounts.
unintended consequence of protecting mammals such as seals and
porpoises could mean even more of an imbalance in the food chain this
fall, fishermen fear. Fishermen will be banned by federal law, starting
in the autumn, from catching fish in an area where mammals – and
groundfish – abound.
As previously reported, the ban will not
affect Cape Cod, where the bycatch rate of porpoises is less than here,
according to a study by the National Atmospheric and Oceanic
Administration, which regulates fishing. NOAA also charged that the
Gloucester boats use “pingers” to scare off mammals only about
two-thirds as regularly as the Cape Codders, though local fishermen
soundly dispute that.
While the unprecedented overpopulation of
seals is mostly around Cape Cod – where an estimated 25 Jaws-like
creatures up to 18 feet are having a day at the beach – both species are
summering here as well. Capt. Dave Jewell of the Lady J said he is
seeing many more seals.
“They’re brutal,” he said, “sneaking in
under the net, ripping open the bellies of the cod; stealing lobsters
right out of the pots. They opened 140 doors on my tarps in one day lat
Jewell said he spotted a 12-foot great white about 10
feet from his boat last week — just about “a half mile off Gloucester
Harbor,” he said, “by Braces Cove.”
Some seals get caught in the
nets, when they show up to eat the trapped cod, fishermen and the
government agree, but Teri Frady of the NOAA Science Center in Woods
Hole said she had no statistics either on the local seal population, how
many become bycatch, or how the forthcoming ban on gillnetting might
In a Canadian study of the Nova Scotia waters in
1985, when cod there were beginning to decline, the seal count was way
up, said Brian Rothschild, Montgomery Charter Professor of Marine
Science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
were unheard of levels of seals,” said Rothschild, “like now, here,
especially in Buzzards Bay. We don’t know exactly what’s going on with
the cod, but some say the two are interacting in the food cycle. And we
do know white sharks eat seals. Even one Great White is a scary thing.”
Rothschild noted, the case of the mysteriously diminished cod count –
NOAA says stocks are down by 22 percent in three years – is a matter of
dispute between government and academic scientists.
and November — prime groundfishing time – more than 2,000 square miles
of the Gulf of Maine will be off limits to Gloucester’s 32 gillnetters,
about half the local fleet, in order to protect what the government says
are threatened numbers of porpoises. Protection of seals will be a side
effect, experts admit.
The gillnetters are usually small boats, not trawlers, that use finely sized monofilament to catch fish.
properly tended stand-up gill net targets specific size fish,” said
Mark Godfried, a Gloucester-based longtime fisherman, fish auction
grader and corporate consultant. “Hooks are not discriminatory. They can
catch little fish that should not be caught.”
Read the full story in the Gloucester Times