Canada's Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has recommended the "culling" (i.e. slaughter) of 70,000 grey seals in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, Agence France-Presse. The committee hopes that removing the seals will aid to the recovery of depleted cod stocks.

The committee has been hearing testimony from more than 40 witnesses about the controversial cull of grey seals. The plan would involve the killing of 70,000 seals over the course of four years. The seals are targeted because, the committee argues, their diet consists primarily of cod and they are preventing of the recovery of cod stocks in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence -- once the greatest cod fishery in the world.

According to the committee, the total population of grey seals in Eastern Canada numbered around 330,000 to 410,000 in 2010. In the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the population of grey seals numbers around 104,000. The cull would eliminate more than half of them.

The committee’s recommendation for culling the seals has plenty of evidence to support it. Grey seals consume the same type of fish that are commonly caught by the fishing industry. As the seal population has expanded dramatically, from roughly 13,000 in the 1960s to up to 410,000 in 2010, so too has the number of cod that are being eaten by the seals.

According to Sen. Fabian Manning, chairman of the committee, “the committee is persuaded that seal predation is preventing the recovery of groundfish stocks," reports AFP.

In fact, grey seals may eat as much cod as the fishing industry catches. In a study of the grey seal population in the Baltic Sea by Karl Lundström from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, the researchers discovered that consumption matched the number of fish caught. According to Lundström, “If you compare the estimated consumption of fish by grey seals in their main range in Sweden, which is north of the Kalmar Sound, it is of the same order of magnitude as the total catch taken by Swedish professional and leisure fishermen in the same area.”

The committee’s recommendation has naturally drawn outrage from conservation groups and some scientists. According to the critics, the decision was not based on science and there is still plenty of research needed to determine how much cod the fish consume.

The committee does recognize the need for further research on the effect of grey seals on the cod population, reports The Vancouver Sun. Most importantly, critics point out that there is no way to understand the effect a large seal cull could have on the ocean or the ecosystem.

Many believe that overfishing is to be blamed and that the recommendation for the seal cull is driven by politics not science, reports the Calgary Sun. According to Liberal Sen. Mac Harb of Ottawa, "Science in this country will be once again put on the back burner as political games are played with Canada's oceans management policies," reports the Calgary Sun.

Another aspect of the cull will be a reported bounty system for the hunting and killing of the seals. Canadian seal meat and pelts are banned in the European Union, and Canada will need to make the hunting of the grey seals rewarding and create possible markets for the culled grey seals. The United States also has a longstanding ban of seal meat and pelts. Some recommendations include promoting the benefits of seal oil, reports the Calgary Sun.

Seal hunting is legal in Canada, although harp seals tend to be the species hunted, not grey seals.