Spring-time brings more than just geese to Wemindji.
It also brings seals.
Lots of seals.
“They’re everywhere,” exclaimed one Wemindji resident, “just laying out in the sun—as far as you can see, on every iceberg!”
With plenty to eat and no predators except for a handful of polar bears, the furry little creatures are multiplying quickly in coastal areas off Wemindji and Chisasibi, and as far south as Eastmain.
At this time of year, you can see 20 or 30 off the Wemindji coast with just the naked eye.
That poses a problem for the Cree coastal fishery.
Wemindji residents have increasingly turned to fishing in coastal areas due to fears of mercury poisoning of inland fish.
The Wemindji band council has detailed records of coastal fish stocks because it has run a summer fishing program for five years that provides fish to the elderly and others who are unable to fish.
Band officials report a steady decrease in fish stocks, and tallymen say it’s because of the growing number of seals.
No one is completely certain why seal numbers are increasing, or how serious the deterioration of fish stocks is.
The band plans to seek expert advice from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to evaluate the problem before it starts looking at various solutions.
Wemindji also hopes to get funds to do an aerial survey of the seal population in conjunction with Eastmain and Chisasibi.
This plan received support from the local Cree Trappers’ Association.
“I think we should do research,” said a CTA official in Wemindji.
“We don’t know the whole story yet.”