The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
An Investigation into the Scapegoating of Canada’s Grey Seal
Cod stocks in the Atlantic, after hitting rock bottom more than twenty years ago, are not recovering, and scientists believe that extinction continues to be a real possibility for at least some of the stocks.
A new and meticulously researched book, The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, written by Nova Scotia author Linda Pannozzo, considers reasons for the slow recovery of the cod. And those reasons are not the ones many politicians, government scientists and fishers subscribe to. Many consider the grey seal to be the main culprit for the slow recovery of the cod. Unlike cod, grey seal populations off our coasts have shown a huge increase over the last four decades. Estimates of the grey seal population off our Atlantic shores range between 330,000 and 410,000. It is tempting to draw a connection between the two phenomena. Cod stocks not recovering. Grey seals, who have been known to eat cod, recovering with a vengeance. And with that connection drawn, the solution becomes obvious. Get rid of the seals, and the cod will return. It’s a logic most politicians and many fishers enthusiastically embrace. For instance, in 2012 the Senate approved a plan to cull 70,000 grey seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Pannozzo doesn’t believe it is simply a matter of seal versus cod. “When you get rid of the seals you get more cod, that’s the way the media has portrayed it, for the most part,” Pannozzo tells the Halifax Media Co-op. “I wanted to engage the complexity.” Pannozzo’s book impresses on the reader that nothing is simple when it comes to a vast ecosystem such as the Northern Atlantic, and that there are very few conclusions we can draw about that ecosystem with any degree of certainty. Scientists disagree on how much cod seals eat. It is also not clear whether current grey seal numbers are at an all time high or simply reflect a recovery to prior levels. To what extent ocean acidification, ocean warming, bottom trawling, and major changes in the entire ocean’s ecosystem contribute to the cod’s slow recovery is a question few are even willing to consider. Pannozzo’s book raises many more questions like these, and it would be a fascinating read for the tough questions it raises alone. But the book goes further. It considers why politicians and governments are so eager to point to seals as the main culprit for the slow cod stock recovery. And what this obsession with the seal has meant for scientists who work for the federal government. And in its final chapter it describes an economic system and a way of thinking that seemingly leaves us no choice but to continue, if not accelerate, the very same practices that have already caused such devastation. - Robert Devet for the Halifax Media Coop