Out of cod, Canada tells fishers “kill seals”

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 1996:

ST. JOHNS, Newfoundland––Blaming harp seals for a
99% decline in the mass of spawning cod off the Atlantic coast of
Newfoundland, Canadian Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin on
December 18 moved to appease out-of-work cod fishers in his
home province by expanding the 1996 seal killing quota to
250,000––actually higher than many annual quotas during the peak
years of the seal hunt in the 1970s and early 1980s.
In effect resuming the all-out seal massacres that prompted
international protest until clubbing newborn whitecoats and
hunting seals from large vessels was suspended in 1983, Tobin
also pledged to maintain a bounty of about 15¢ U.S. per pound for
each dead seal landed, and said he would encourage the revived
use of large vessels to help sealers attack seal breeding colonies on
offshore ice floes.


The prohibition on killing whitecoats remains in effect,
but only means young seals will be killed not as newborns but as
two-week-old beaters, just beginning to molt and crawl.
Tobin’s announcement came two months after Tobin and
the fisheries ministers for the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway,
and Russia, and a representative from Greenland, agreed on a
joint plan to promote sealing––and one month after international
newswires circulated an unconfirmed report that Canada was close
to striking a deal to sell up to 250,000 seal carcasses a year to an
Asian buyer. The Canadian government has been severely embar-
rassed by an International Fund for Animal Welfare campaign
worldwide to expose the lack of market demand for seal products.
A report on seal marketing strategy commissioned by the Canadian
government, published in November 1994, confirmed that more
than half of seal product income is derived from the sale of penises
to the Asian aphrodisiac trade. At that, the average price paid to
sealers for seal penises is only $20 to $26. The report found no
viable markets for seal meat, oil, or fur.
Lack of sales opportunities helped hold the official 1995
Atlantic Canada sealing toll to just 67,000, of a quota of 186,000
But that was before Canada moved from trying to encourage
sealing as an industry to the present stance of wanting to kill
seals willy-nilly.
Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society and Sea of Slaughter author Farley
Mowat in a joint statement quoted Ottawa Citizen coverage of
a Tobin speech made on July 7, 1994: “Canada will not consider
a return to seal culling on its east coast, despite fishermen’s
claims that the seals threaten Newfoundland’s endangered
cod. Evidence of the impact of seals in the destruction
of cod was not clear, Tobin said. ‘There is no doubt in my
mind that man has been a far greater predator,’ he said.”
Tobin argued in his December 18 declaration of war
on harp seals that their numbers have doubled since 1983, to
4.8 million, and could reach six million in just five years
without a revived massacre. His logic was weakened, however,
by his simultaneous claim that up to 287,000 seals a
year could be killed before leveling the population. According
to Tobin, the seals ate 142,000 tons of Atlantic cod.
“There is no scientific data that harp seal populations
have increased substantially,” responded Watson and
Mowat. “There is scientific data to demonstrate that cod is
not a major or significant part of a harp seal diet. In fact, the
largest predator group affecting cod are other fish species. It
is these species that harp seals do prey upon significantly.
Removal of harp seals could increase the numbers of fish that
prey upon young cod. The ecological complexity of the
Grand Banks is not factored into Tobin’s decision.”
Suppressed evidence
Guelph University marine mammologist David
Lavigne and the International Fund for Animal Welfare anticipated
Tobin’s announcement of an expanded seal hunt with
a December 17 press conference, at which IFAW publicized
a British boycott of Canadian salmon to protest Canadian
sealing, while Lavigne accused Tobin of suppressing evidence
that seals as well as cod need protection.
“If [government] scientists aren’t allowed to freely
discuss their results,” Lavigne charged, “they cannot function
as scientists.”
Former Department of Fisheries and Oceans biologist
Peter Meisenheimer, now with the International Marine
Mammal Association, had rebuked Canadian government
manipulation of scientific data in a December 6 posting to the
Conservation Biology Discussion Group on the Internet.
“Every result produced by DFO sceintists who have
actually looked for evidence of an impact of [cod] stock
recruitment [by harp seals] has shown absolutely none,”
Meisenheimer said. “In a recent paper in Science, DFO biologists
found no evidence. At a recent North Atlantic Fisheries
Organization meeting, DFO folks presented an abstract
which specifically addressed the issue of seals and stock
recruitment and reported no evidence of an impact. Whatever
the reason,” Meisenheimer continued, “DFO has chosen to
ignore the findings of these biologists and has pursued a campaign
that is an insult to those who are legitimately concerned
with conservation and to many of their own staff. In support
of their position, they have used a population model of harp
seal abundance that is methodologically biased toward producing
a higher result in the recent year; an inappropriate statistical
test is employed, apparently because the appropriate
test would find no significant difference in population
between 1990 and 1994; and DFO public relations indicates
that there has been a stepwise annual increase in [seal] populations,
when they have no data to show such a finding.
Models for grey seals are structured around the assumption of
an effect on recruitment and are then used as evidence of such
an effect. This has culminated in a release from DFO in
which they make the definitive and utterly false statement that
harp seals are limiting groundfish stock recruitment. DFO
scientists who have made public statements contradicting this
claim are rumored to have been officially reprimanded.”
“The cod population crashed,” Watson and Mowat
argued, “because of Canadian Department of Fisheries mismanagement,”
based on falsified science, “in allowing large
Canadian drag trawlers a free rein on the Banks. The Sea
Shepherds have waged campaigns on the east coast to protect
both cod and seals. In both cases, we are protecting them
from the same thing––the incompetence of the Department of
Fisheries and Oceans. Brian Tobin managed to hoodwink
Canadians with his so-called get-tough policy against Spain,”
Watson and Mowat added, referring to Tobin’s spring order
to intercept Spanish trawlers, which came nearly two years
after Watson and crew, with Mowat’s cash support, intercepted
the Cuban trawler Rio Las Casas in the same general
area––and five months before Watson served 30 days in jail
for the effort. But the Rio Las Casas fished no more after the
1993 encounter with the Sea Shepherds, whereas, Watson
and Mowat charged, “Four to five dozen giant foreign
trawlers continue to take cod, turbot, redfish, etcetera each
day” in the area of the government interception.
“The Sea Shepherds will be organizing international
demonstrations, advertising campaigns, mobilizing celebrities,
and returning to the ice floes to once again protect harp
seals,” Watson and Mowat pledged.
Political timing
They also suggested, on December 20, that Tobin
might be acting with further political ambitions first in mind.
On December 28, Newfoundland premier Clyde Wells, 58,
announced his retirement, after heading the provincial government
since 1989. Reported the Reuter news agency,
“Widespread media speculation suggests that Brian Tobin,
the high-profile minister of fisheries and oceans in the
Liberal-led federal government and a native Newfoundlander
from Cornerbrook, will run for the leadership job.”
As a former TV reporter, Tobin is well-positioned
to feed such speculation while using sealing to keep himself
before Newfoundland voters until a leadership convention is
convened to pick Wells’ successor. Wells said he hoped the
convention would be held before the end of March––shortly
after the sealing season ends.
Friends of Animals noted another aspect of Tobin’s
timing. “It was only last week,” said FoA president Priscilla
Feral, “that Canada persuaded the European Council of
Ministers to accept a 12-month delay in the implementing
their regulation to embargo the import of furs caught by use
of cruel trapping methods,” which was to take effect on
January 1, and now has been postponed to 1997––or may be
dismantled. “We recall that the bloody slaughter of harp seal
pups on Canadian ice has long been a sensitive issue in
Europe, which has a longstanding embargo on their furs, as
well. Imagine if Tobin had made his announcement before
the European ministers met. Such an offensive announcement
might have jeopardized the delicate politics involved in persuading
the Europeans to accept the products of cruelty.”
Seal notes
On December 20, two days after Brian Tobin
announced the expanded Atlantic Canada seal hunt, t h e
pro-hunting British Columbia Wildlife Federation called for a
Pacific coast hunt of harbor seals, ostensibly to protect overfished
salmon.
Norway set 1996 sealing quotas on December 23.
According to Georg Blichtfeldt, secretary for the High
North Alliance, who cited government sources, the toll could
include 10,900 adult harp seals and 17,500 weaned pups.
Storm waves swept hundreds of seal pups off of
Seal Island in False Bay on the Cape Peninsula of South
Africa during mid-December. Most drowned. Wildlife officials
said the remains of 420 seal pups were recovered from
Muizenberg and Strandfontein beaches on December 17-18.
The deaths were not expected to greatly affect the population,
as 12,000 to 15,000 seals a year are born at Seal Island.

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