An evaluation of management objectives for Canada's commercial harp seal hunt, 1996-1998
The largest existing hunt for marine mammals is Canada's commercial hunt for Northwest Atlantic harp seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus). From 1995 to 1998, the total allowable catch was set at a level that the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans calculated would not cause the population to decline, consistent both with its stated management objectives of maintaining stable seal populations while allowing a sustainable harvest and with its stated policy of taking a precautionary approach to management. During those years, Canada's total allowable catch was progressively increased from 186,000 harp seals per year (1995) to 250,000 (1996) to 275,000 (1997 and 1998). We examined whether the government's management objectives were achieved using the conventional approach of comparing landed catches with the replacement yield estimated from a biological population model. We then conducted a second assessment, using a more modern and precautionary approach recently implemented for marine mammal management in the United States which incorporates uncertainty into management models to estimate sustainable 'potential biological removal levels.' From 1996 to 1998, landed catches from Canada and Greenland exceeded Canada's estimated replacement yield. Over the same period, estimated total human-caused mortality exceeded potential biological removal levels by 1.5 to 5.9 times. Given such levels of reported catches and estimated total human-caused mortality, Canada's management of its harp seal hunt did not achieve its objectives. It is likely, therefore, that the population is now declining and, if recent levels of killing continue, the population will stabilize only at levels below (and possibly far below) its maximum net productivity level. Viewed from this perspective, Canada's approach to harp seal management between 1996 and 1998 cannot be deemed precautionary or risk-averse.
Johnston, DW; Meisenheimer, P; Lavigne, DM
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