Commons report urges pinniped harvest to conserve salmon, steelhead

A report to the federal government suggests that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) take concrete steps to reduce seal and sea lion overpopulation to curtail pinniped predation on vulnerable wild salmon. 

The Report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans published and delivered to the House of Commons in December suggests DFO act on the concerns of conservation groups, scientists, harvesters and Indigenous people that pinniped population have “expanded to points of imbalance in certain regions.” 

Several of the 17 detailed recommendations reference “the sustainability of prey populations” such as steelhead, coho, and Chinook as fuel for immediate action. 

The committee heard that “on the British Columbia coast, sea lions consume over 300,000 tonnes of fish annually, more fish than all the commercial fisheries combined.” 

“Pinniped predation in B.C. is also a contributor to many stocks of salmon and steelhead being classified as threatened or endangered as defined by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.” 

They suggest specifically designing a pinniped hunt to address “pinch points” that “specialist pinnipeds” use to ambush salmon in vulnerable locations, including “fish ladders, hatcheries and at the mouth of tributaries,” where they consume millions of juvenile and adult salmon. 

B.C. Wildlife Federation Executive Director Jesse Zeman addressed to committee to express concerns about government interference in DFO’s scientific decision-making process and the need to address pinniped overpopulation, which is helping to drive some steelhead populations to extinction. 

Zeman argued for an organized pinniped harvest on the West Coast to reduce predation on wild Pacific salmon because “steelhead are endangered, pinnipeds are not.” 

The report offers some hope that DFO is inching closer to addressing pinniped overpopulation and their excessive predation on salmon. 

The standing committee is convinced that action is required and put the onus on DFO to act “urgently.” 

In their own words: “This report’s objective is to draw the attention of DFO, relevant departments and the Canadian government to important observational and empirical evidence that the over-population of pinnipeds on Canada’s three coasts is having a significant and damaging impact on the health and conservation of fish stocks and is creating an imbalance in our marine ecosystems. At the core of the recommendations offered is the Committee’s strong belief that measures to address this issue are urgently required. It is time to act.” 

Committee Chair Ken McDonald wraps up by asking that “the government table a comprehensive response to this report.” 

To read the report in its entirety: Ecosystem Impacts and Management of Pinniped Populations ( 

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