Too Many Seals, Not Enough Sharks
The growing seal population on the Cape will be an ever increasing problem into the future. As a commercial fisherman, I can tell you that the local seal population has expanded rapidly over the last 10 years. When I was fishing ten, fifteen, twenty years ago, seeing a seal was a rarity. Not the case at all today.
After the reading the published reports of witnesses that saw a Great White Shark eating a seal along the shore of Nauset Beach, The Hairy Beast wonders:
...if more yummy, yummy seals swimming close to the beach also means more white sharks swimming after them, also close to the beach?
I would imagine since both sharks and seals are now protected that their populations are growing happily together.
Great White Sharks Eating Seals Video
The seal population here is an issue for a number of reasons, the least of which is the shark population. With the seals now covering large areas of the outer beaches, one concern is pollution from seal waste. I have heard from boaters and fishermen that you can smell the seals from pretty far offshore when the breeze is right, or “ripe”. All these seals doing their business all over miles of shoreline cannot be very good for swimmers. Don’t drink the water… it’s too salty. If everyone you saw at the beach pooped in the water would you go swimming?
The other thing is the effect of an expanding seal population on fish stocks. One concern is the spread of fish-eating parasitic worms found in seal waste. As a commercial fisherman, who fished for codfish 20 years ago in the Gulf of Maine, which had more seals than the Cape did at that time, we knew when the cod we caught were from “up north”. These codfish more often than not had these parasitic “worms” in their flesh. When we brought these fish home to the ports of the Cape, the fish buyers would know as soon as they filleted a few where they were caught. Years ago these worms were rarely found in the codfish off Chatham. These worms are in nearly all the codfish caught now in inshore waters. Last winter we saw that the bellies and livers of many of the monkfish we caught 60 miles south of M/V Nantucket are now loaded with these parasitic worms.
Local fishermen are urging leaders to look into the issue:
The letter said local fishermen, boaters and beachgoers have seen the seal population rapidly expand, and questions whether the increased numbers of seals are responsible for the decline in river herring and commercially important inshore fish.
Bremser said he has been researching the local seal population, “and there’s not a whole lot of data”. But as an inshore commercial fisherman, every scrod (juvenile codfish) that I cut open to bring home to my family to eat is full of worms”, he said. The worms are parasites spread by seal feces, Bremser said. Our fish are basically unmarketable, he said.—source
It is also widely known that seals eat between 6%-8% of their body weight a day.
There are several seals that hang around the Chatham fish pier and I’ll bet some of them weigh 800+ lbs. I’ve seen my brother-in-law feed them skate wings off the back of the fishing vessel DawnT while unloading at the pier.
Let’s say that there are 1000 seals on the outer Cape beaches. The number is much higher, likely near 10,000. Next we do the math, 1000 seals at an average of 500 lbs. each is 500,000 lbs. of seals. Half-a million pounds of seals times .07 (7%) is 35,000. So a thousand seals can eat 35,000 lbs. of fluke, flounder, river herring, juvenile codfish, striped bass, etc… per day. How much fish will 10,000 seals eat in a day? Well, that’s 350,000 lbs. of fish per day. Chatham harbor used to be a great flounder fishing spot, now you can’t even buy a flounder there.
The State of Massachusetts had a bounty on seals up until 1962. It is unlikely that the sharks will be able keep the seal population in check like a bounty did. There has been some momentum in the Town of Chatham to get the Feds to re-assess the Marine Mammal Protection Act and research the effects of the exploding seal population on the area.
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