Watson trial Dec. 6 ––if Canada dares

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1993:

ST. JOHN’S, NEWFOUND-
LAND––Enjoying his new reputation in
Canada as “Captain Cod Hugger” for his July
28 confrontation with foreign dragnetters in
the North Atlantic, Paul Watson of the Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society is to go to
trial December 6 before a St. John’s jury for
allegedly endangering the lives of his crew,
the crew of the Cuban dragger Rio Las Casas,
and the Rio Las Casas itself––if the
Canadian government actually has the nerve
to try Watson for an action applauded from
coast to coast, including by many of the
same people who have long reviled him for
his protests against seal hunting.

As Watson himself put it in an open
letter to Canadian newspapers, “The govern-
ment of Canada spends $2.5 million to pro-
tect the interests of the Cuban and Spanish
draggers from a Canadian ship skippered by a
Canadian citizen. Is there something wrong
with this picture? Damned right there is. I
know of no other nation in the world that
would harass its own citizens for attempting
to prevent the theft of a vital resource by
opportunistic pirates who care little for the
future welfare of the targeted species.
“The Canadian government tells us
that they have no jurisdiction beyond the 200-
mile limit [to offshore territory, recognized by international laws.] The same
government tells us that they can do nothing to protect the northern cod,”
although Canadian vessels have been enjoined from catching cod since last year,
putting 30,000 residents of the Maritime provinces out of work until the cod
population recovers. “And yet the Canadian government can arrest me, a
Canadian citizen, because I told some Cubans and Spaniards to pick up their
nets and go home.” Watson maintains he was outside the 200-mile limit himself
when he was arrested.
The Crown argues that Watson bumped the Rio las Casas. Watson
says there was never any contact. “All I did was approach the Cubans and ask
them to leave,” Watson told ANIMAL PEOPLE. Both sides claim to have
witnesses. Watson also said he had no prior knowledge that members of
Orcaforce, headed by his wife Lisa DiStefano, were going to hurl a stink-bomb
aboard the Cuban vessel. “We’re the Navy and they’re the Marines,” he
explained. “They don’t involve us in their civil disobedience strategy, and we
don’t ask about it.”
Putting Watson on trial in December would be doubly embarrassing to
the Canadian government, because it would not only spotlight the failure to pro-
tect declining fish stocks against foreign vessels, but also––close to the start of
the sealing season––revive attention to the ongoing landsmen’s seal hunt and
official efforts to revive the offshore hunt of infant harp seals, which was sus-
pended in 1983. The landsmen’s hunt, conducted with rifles from small boats,
officially kills about 60,000 seals a year, but may actually kill three times that
many. According to Quebec anthropologist George Wenzel, an apologist for
seal hunting, retrieval of shot seals runs as low as 30%.
Watson has not been charged in connection with a dispute with Halifax
Herald reporter Malcolm Dunlop, who was aboard Watson’s ship, a former
Canadian Coast Guard cutter renamed the Cleveland Amory, during the episode
with the Rio las Casas. Dunlop claims that after he filed several articles critical
of Watson’s captaincy, he was falsely accused of stealing a receipt bearing the
name of an anonymous major donor, was held prisoner for several hours, and
was transferred to a Canadian Coast Guard ship only after attempting to jump
overboard. Watson countered in a call to ANIMAL PEOPLE that Dunlop was
not falsely accused, had misrepresented his background, had been drinking
alcohol and smoking marijuana he brought aboard in violation of Sea Shepherd
rules, and was suspected of sabotaging both the Cleveland Amory’s engine and
steering gear. “The alleged escape attempt,” Watson said, “was a very stupid
thing to do. Never mind freezing to death in the water; he would have been
chopped up by our propeller.”
Further, Watson stated, “I handled the situation exactly according to
instructions from the Canadian Coast Guard, who were supposed to arrest him
as soon as they took him into custody, but then refused to press charges. I was
told to ask the politicians why.” Watson denied having attempted to sail toward
Iceland, as reported, before surrendering to the Canadian Coast Guard himself.
“I wasn’t about to try to cross the Atlantic on only one engine,” he explained.
And he noted that contrary to Dunlop’s assertion that the Cleveland Amory
lacked a variety of emergency equipment, everything necessary was on board
and certified to be on board by the Canadian Coast Guard before the ship ever
left Halifax, where Orcaforce bought it
and had it refurbished.
Watson’s adventure off the
Maritimes was planned as a prelude to
confronting Norwegian whalers, who
defied the international ban on commer-
cial whaling. Because of the damage to
the Cleveland Amory, he never got there,
but while the whaling fleet made an esti-
mated “six or seven million dollars”
killing 160 minke whales, Watson said,
the Norwegian government reportedly
spent “in excess of $28 million on security
in anticipation of our arrival.”
At summer’s end, Watson was
inspecting a 30-year-old Russian subma-
rine, available for $392,000 from the
cash-poor Russian navy. The Cleveland
Amory was in a Fisheries Canada berth in
St. John’s, where a deal to sell it to a local
group organized by attorney Owen Myers
fell through. The asking price was
right––a “loonie,” the Canadian hard-
metal dollar, and a bottle of screech, the
native Newfoundland rum––but the mem-
bers of the group, Fishers Organized for
the Revitalization of Communities and
Ecosystems, couldn’t raise the cost of
repairs, which Watson put at $20,000 and
Myers, who is to represent Watson on
December 6, pegged at $250,000. Either
way, they didn’t have it.
The cod overfishing situation
took yet another turn September 19, when
the St. John’s Telegram revealed that
“Fishermen from Newfoundland’s south-
ern shore and possibly Nova Scotia are
catching tonnes of banned northern cod
under the guise of fishing for bluefin tuna
and swordfish.”
And the government strategy to
revive sealing by blaming seals for the
lack of cod was upset meanwhile when
The Atlantic Salmon Journal published a
review of 18 scientific studies of the con-
tents of 9,243 harp seal stomachs, dating
back to 1941, which established that “all
the available evidence indicates that
Atlantic cod is rarely eaten by harp seals.”
––Merritt Clifton
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