Some Ask: Should Seals Be Culled in New England?

Seal, photo/New England Boating, Tom Richardson.
Seal, photo/New England Boating, Tom Richardson.

With populations of gray and harbor seals exploding in New England, some are asking whether the number of seals is becoming too great.

From the 1880s until the 1960s, both Maine and Massachusetts used a bounty system to reduce the number of seals, which fishermen claimed were eating “their” valuable finfish and lobsters. Hunters collected $1 to $5 for each seal nose, and decimated the local populations of gray and harbor seals.

Since passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, seal populations have steadily increased all along the coast, from Maine to Long Island and even further south in some cases. Today, fishermen accuse the seals of stealing fish from nets and lines, competing for their valuable food fish and shellfish species, destroying weirs and lobster pots, and disrupting fish spawning behavior. Some state and local agencies worry that seals may be polluting certain waterways with their feces. And then there’s the case of great white sharks, which pose a public health threat.

In light of all these concerns, some anti-seal advocates have suggested that seals once again be culled to reduce their numbers.

If anyone doubts the numbers of seals now inhabiting New England waters, watch the video posted by pilot Aaron Knight showing hundreds of thousands of seals hauled out on Monomoy Island in mid-April.