The overabundance of sea lions in British Columbia has one commercial fisherman at wit’s end after nightmarish numbers of pinnipeds swarmed his boat and nets day after day during the just-concluded roe herring season.
For sea lions, seeing a fishing boat coming is like hearing a dinner bell. They associate fishing boats with food, and have for years. But commercial fisherman Allan Marsden of Vancouver will attest that the problem is as bad as ever, as witnessed by video he captured last week in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the mainland:
Hundreds of sea lions swarmed around his boat and nets.
“I’ve always enjoyed fishing, especially herring, but this is taking the fun right out of it,” Marsden said in the video. “This [makes it] virtually impossible to work.
“Try trying to work with this [expletive] garbage everyday. Makes life pretty miserable.”
This season, Marsden was unable to make his quota for roe herring, which are fished for their eggs as they gather to spawn. Fishermen only have late February to early March to reach their quota, which would be a lot easier without sea lions.
“The sea lions keep the herring down so we can’t get at them,” Marsden told Global News. “They just make it virtually impossible to put the gear in the water sometimes.”
Unfortunately, Marsden’s fishing boat is a virtual magnet for the sea lions.
“The minute you start setting that net they come from everywhere,” he told Global News. “And when you see them coming, it’s as if you’re in a river and you’re in rapids. All you see is this white foam water coming at you.
“If you weren’t actually there to see what happens, it’s almost to the point that you wouldn’t believe it.”
But the Department of Fisheries doesn’t appear to be very concerned.
While Marsden and others feel the population of sea lions is “exploding,” according to the Department of Fisheries (DFP), the mammals have been steadily growing for 30 years or more and only recently hit a healthy number.
“The Steller sea lion, which is what we have up along the B.C. coast, for many years they seasonally come into the Georgia Strait to get herring,” Dr. John Ford with the DFO confirmed.
“Just like the fisherman do. But the number of sea lions hasn’t made any sharp increase in the last few years. It’s been steady.”
Ford says there are about 5,000 sea lions in the southern Vancouver Island area, where Marsden shot the video, and that the populations vary from location to location along the west coast of B.C.
“Overall, the population over the winter is almost 50,000 [sea lions] and they’re recovering from culling/predator control that took place for decades prior to 1970,” Ford said.
That isn’t reassuring to fishermen, least of all Marsden, who knows one fisherman who suffered $100,000 worth of gear damage because of sea lions.