A retired fisherman is trying to kill sea lions and seals simply because they eat fish.
Roy Jones Jr., president of the Pacific Balance Pinnipeds Society, is continuing his 37-year fight to kill seals and sea lions in British Columbia, who have been federally protected since 1970 and remain a “species of special concern.” Governments decided to protect the marine animals after fishermen were killing so many sea lions that their numbers plunged to the brink of population collapse.
According to Jones, seals and sea lions compete with fishermen for salmon. But pinniped research biologist Sheena Majewski, who used to run programs allowing fishers to shoot seals and sea lions, points out there wasn’t a large jump in salmon numbers from those hunting programs. Additionally, salmon make up a small portion of harbor seals’ diets, just 4 percent.
Protected in the U.S. by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, pinnipeds are illegally shot on the West Coast. In fact, 165 sea lions, two harbor seals, one northern fur seal, and one Steller sea lion arrived at a rehabilitation center with gunshot fragments between 2003 and 2015. The majority of the animals came in during the height of the salmon fishing season.
Fishermen are even using the recent tragedy of a Southern Resident orca calf to argue for killing seals and sea lions, stating the pinnipeds are the reason for declining orca numbers, when in reality, thriving transient orca populations feed on pinnipeds. Allowing the killing of pinnipeds would almost guarantee that these transient orca populations suffer and decline from lack of prey. In fact, just as fishermen now want to kill seals and sea lions, they used to shoot the endangered Southern Resident orcas because the whales were considered pests who ate too many salmon.
And this isn’t the first time the fishing industry has killed marine mammals. Many of the U.K.’s independently run salmon factory farms employ licensed marksmen to kill seals who threaten their fish supply, despite the seal population’s rapid decline due to the fatal disease phocine distemper. More than 1,500 U.K. seals have been shot to protect factory-farmed fish in the past six years alone.
Conveniently, fishermen forget the main reason for salmon decline: human intervention. Pollution, overfishing, and habitat destruction by humans are some of the hardest challenges marine animals face today.
Our oceans are extremely complex ecosystems, so when one species declines, others suffer. For instance, Atlantic puffins on the Shetland Islands depend on sand eels to survive. Once sand eels were overfished, puffin numbers dramatically declined. When herring is overfished, cod populations fall.
Similarly, sardines and anchovies are being overfished so they can be ground into fish meal for farmed salmon, pigs, and chickens. For animals like penguins who depend on sardines and anchovies for food, this causes a rapid drop in population. Since 2004, the South African penguin population has declined an astonishing 70 percent. Many fish species and their predators are now endangered or face extinction because of overfishing.
It’s undeniable the salmon fishing industry is decimating our oceans and causing species decline. The best thing we can do for all marine animals is to refuse to support an industry that disrupts the balance of nature’s ecosystems and puts species at risk for extinction.
But eating seafood doesn’t just hurt seals, sea lions, orcas, and other “cute” marine animals many people value; it’s also unspeakably cruel for the innocent fish killed for food. Fish are similar to dogs and cats in their experience of pain and pleasure.
Keeping fish off your plate is the best way to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems and end support of a cruel industry.
Learn more about switching to a humane plant-based diet to prevent cruelty to all animals used for food. Then check out Gardein’s fishless filets and crabless cakes, and click here for compassionate sea-inspired recipes.