New England fishermen say seals are eating up their livelihood

TRURO, Mass. - It is summer on Cape Cod. The weather is warm, the beaches are crowded. And the seafood? They're fighting over it.

On a typical summer afternoon off the coast of Cape Cod, nearly 1,000 gray seals sunbathe on a sandbar.

A few years ago, this would have been unbelievable. By the 1960s, the seals were hunted close to extinction, the result of a $5 bounty by the state in an attempt to eliminate an animal many considered a pest to fishermen.

But in 1972, Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act and scientists hoped the seals would rebound.

Mike Giblin is a volunteer with the National Park Service. .

"This week in particular, it's definitely the most (seals) we've seen," he said.

The gray seal population is rebounding, but not everyone on Cape Cod is happy about it. CBS News

But where scientists see success, others see competition. Seals can consume up to 50 pounds of fish each day, sometimes following fishermen boats and snatching food right of their lines.

"It's frustrating. You're watching them take money right from your pocket," said Nick Muto.

Muto has been fishing these waters for 13 years, and he says "every fish is money."

"When seals became endangered and we started looking at the seal population, did we ever measure what success would look like? Did we ever say when enough seals would be enough?" he said.

What does he see when he looks at a gray seal?

"I see a threat to my bottom line," Muto said. "They are an 800-pound predator."

Fishermen complain that the seals are eating up all the fish and ruining their livelihoods. CBS News

Andrea Bogomolni is a marine biologist studying the seals' recovery.

"What we're seeing is something that came back from zero, so if you look at something that came from zero it looks like a lot of animals," she said.

Some people who have lived here for a long time are asking why they can't have a cull to get the numbers under control.

"I completely understand and I sympathize very much with people whose livelihoods depend on fisheries, but these animals can't go to a grocery store," Bogomolni said. "This is their diet, their only diet."

Humans upset the balance of nature here decades ago. Now, with livelihoods on the line, they're still trying to determine the least painful way to restore it.

  • Elaine Quijano
    Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.