Canadian Perceptions of Commercial Fisheries Management and Marine Mammal Conservation in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Public attitudes toward the use of fisheries and marine mammals in the northwest Atlantic have played an influential role in recent controversies over management of these resources. A thorough assessment of public sentiment has, however, been lacking. We describe the results of a survey conducted to assess Canadian public opinion regarding a variety of commercial fisheries and marine mammal issues. Over one thousand, randomly selected adult Canadians were surveyed concerning their attitudes, knowledge, and concerns toward the conservation and management of marine mammals in the northwest Atlantic. The sample included 875 members of the general public, 130 sealers and 81 commercial fishermen.
Most Canadians (93-95%) in all sampling groups and in all provinces, except Quebec (54%), expressed concern about conflicts between marine mammals and commercial fisheries. Knowledge of basic marine mammal biology, however, was strikingly deficient and variable among groups: sealers obtained the highest knowledge rating, fishers were intermediate, and the general public scored lowest. The views of the Canadian general public, sealers, and commercial fishers were highly divergent regarding prioritization of goals for Canada's commercial fishing industry. Sealers and fishers emphasized employment, cultural and economic considerations, while the general public placed greater emphasis on ecological and ethical matters. All groups agreed that the most significant threats to Canada's commercial fisheries included fishing by foreign countries, pollution, and over-fishing. Competition from marine mammals and damage to fishing equipment by marine mammals were rated as the least important threats. Fishing by foreign vessels in Canadian waters was regarded by all groups with particular suspicion.
Unlike sealers and fishers, the general public consistently disputed the notion of sacrificing the needs of marine mammals for the benefit of commercial fishing. The public also expressed a strong preference for including fishing impacts on marine mammals in setting allowable catch quotas for commercial fish stocks, and further indicated a willingness to favor the interests of marine mammals over commercial fisheries in marine mammal entanglement situations.
More than ninety percent of all respondents indicated strong support for the 'existence value' of seals. Most Canadians opposed sealing for fur, whereas most approved of harvesting abundant adult seal populations for meat, harvests associated with the cultures of native peoples, and harvests important to local economies. Respondents were divided regarding the harvest of seals that damage fishing gear. All groups strongly opposed the harvest of newborn seals. Sealers and residents of Newfoundland supported lethal methods of seal population control, while residents of large urban areas and women were inclined to approve of non-lethal measures. An overwhelming majority of Canadians objected to the use of poisons or clubs as a means of population control.
Consideration of the results of this study could provide an enhanced basis for fashioning mutually acceptable policy solutions and mitigating conflicts between commercial fisheries and marine mammal conservation in the northwest Atlantic Ocean.
Open access content
Free trial content