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Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence cod could be extinct by mid-century: report

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There is a high probability that Atlantic cod will be locally extinct in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence by mid-century — even with no commercial fishing, according to a new report.

The paper, published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, says the death rate now stands at 50 per cent for adult Gulf cod five years and older. 

The likely culprit? Grey seals.

“That high a natural mortality is not sustainable,” says Doug Swain, a federal Fisheries Department scientist who co-authored the study.

Why recovery has failed for cod 

Swain says this stock is particularly vulnerable because it tends to gather in the same places every year.

That includes predictable patterns of migration, spawning and overwintering in dense congregations off Cape Breton in numbers still large enough to attract grey seals that eat them.

Samples showed adult cod made up a large part of the grey seal diet in the overwintering area off St. Paul’s Island, Cape Breton.

Swain and other researchers used models to predict what that could mean for the future of this cod population.

“In these projections, if we assume natural mortality were to stay where it is now and there was no fishing, then cod would be gone by middle of the century,” he says.

“There is nothing to say it will stay where it is but if it is due to predation by grey seals and they continue to prey on cod like they are now, then there is no way this population recovers and it may decline to negligible levels.”

The research found grey seals are likely responsible for an unsustainable rate of mortality among adult cod in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. The seals pictured here belong to the Sable Island herd. (Sarah Medill/University of Saskatchewan)

Swain, who is based at DFO’s Gulf Fisheries Centre in Moncton, N.B., has spent years looking at why the southern Gulf cod population has not recovered since the epic groundfish collapse in Eastern Canada in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Not only did the stock not rebuild, the natural death rate increased to unprecedented levels.

Researchers looked at 10 hypotheses for an explanation, including fish health, environmental conditions, unreported fishing and the possibility cod simply left the area.

“Since the late ’90s none of the other hypotheses really had support except for the possibility the high natural mortality is due to predation by grey seals,” says Swain.

Grey seal population growth

The Gulf grey seal population grew to 100,000 in 2014 from about 8,000 in 1960. In summer, they gather everywhere from Nova Scotia’s Pictou Island to the Magdalen Islands of Quebec.

The Sable Island population has also increased dramatically. That herd is now estimated at 400,000 individuals.

The eastern Scotian Shelf cod population near Sable Island also has not recovered and adults have an even higher death rate, though the report does not directly link their mortality with seals.

‘They won’t always bounce back’

Dalhousie University biologist Jeff Hutchings says the downward spiral facing Gulf cod is a good example of what can happen to an overfished species.

“When we deplete fish stocks to very low levels, they won’t always bounce back or rebuild if we stop fishing them.”

Swain agrees. He says society will have to decide whether to intervene to reduce seal numbers or accept that Gulf cod will not recover.

“The ecosystem isn’t going to change if we leave it like it is now. If nature is allowed to run its course, it’s not going to return to the balanced level it was 150 years ago.”

But Hutchings says even a seal cull would not guarantee a cod comeback.

“Many species are feeding upon one another, competing with one another, interacting with one another,” he says. 

“And we simply don’t have enough information to draw any scientifically legitimate and defensible conclusions about what a cull of grey seals would do to cod.”

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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