Saturday, August 19, 2006

Are there enough sharks to deal with the seals over population?

A great white shark has the power to strike fear into the hearts of, well, pretty much everybody, but for some local commercial fishermen the abundant seal population living in Chatham waters poses a greater threat to their livelihood.

"There is a growing concern about the seal population," said Paul Bremser, a Chatham resident who observed a great white shark attack and eat a seal off Lighthouse Beach July 18. Bremser was giving a surfing lesson at the time.

Bremser told the board of selectmen Tuesday that, as a commercial fisherman, he believes the seals are decimating inshore fish populations through feeding and the spread of fish-eating parasitic worms found in their feces.

"Seals eat the fish, the same fish fishermen are trying to catch," said Selectwoman Deborah Connors, who has heard similar concerns about the seals.

Bremser asked selectmen to sign a letter he drafted to elected officials.

"I want Congress to review the Marine Mammals Protection Act and send scientists to Chatham," he said.

Tom Rudolph, program coordinator for Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association, helped draft the letter and said there is merit to Bremser's concerns about an unchecked growing seal population.

Unlike the Endangered Species Act, Rudolph said the Marine Mammals Protection Act does not establish a healthy target number for a seal population to reach.

Seals are federally protected after decades of extensive hunting for their pelts.

Rudolph hopes the letter would be sent to Massachusetts Sens. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy, and U.S. Rep. William Delahunt. The idea is to foster a dialogue about the issue and encourage scientific studies of the impact of the growing seal populations on the local fishery and what is a healthy number.

"We feel there are major data gaps," said Rudolph. "The way to narrow the gap between perception and reality is through education."

A majority of the selectmen agreed and voted 4-1 to send the letter to local representatives.
Selectmen Chairman David Whitcomb did not vote to send the letter, explaining he needed more time to review the issue.

Rudolph said support will also be sought from other boards of selectmen on the Cape and in other coastal communities in Massachusetts for better studies of the growing seal populations.


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