Overkill in overdrive: Canada halts, then resumes seal massacre

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1996:

The good news was that on April
12, a month early, the Canadian Department
of Fisheries and Oceans halted the bloodiest
seal massacre since 1983, claiming––
though few believed it––that the quota of a
quarter million harp seals had been filled.
The bad news was that on April 16
the DFO told the sealers that it had overcounted,
and to go kill another 60,000.
At that, Canadian Sealers Association
executive director Tina Fagan said her
members might ask for an additional quota of
37,000. Newfoundland fisheries minister
John Efford said the additional quota ought to
be 150,000.

Newly elected Newfoundland premier
Brian Tobin just enjoyed the spoils of
having given Canada’s least educated, most
welfare-dependent and most resentful
province an animal to blame, instead of
Tobin’s own policies in his former post as
federal fisheries minister, for the likelihood
that the cod stocks Newfoundlanders and others
fished to the verge of extinction during the
1980s and early 1990s won’t be commercially
fishable again in what remains of this century,
or in the first decade of the next century.
The seal slaughter was stimulated
this year by ice conditions favoring sealers,
for the first time in years, as well as by sig
nificant federal and provincial make-work subsidies
that raised the price paid for seal meat from 20¢ per
pound to 27¢ a pound. As in past years, however,
when there were no visible markets for the remains of
many fewer seals, real demand for seal products was
scarce. Despite DFO claims that pelt prices were
averaging $20, up from $16 last year, the price list
circulated by the primary buyer, the Carino Company
Ltd., showed $20 as the very top price paid for any
type of harp seal.
Prices of $20 or more were offered for five
types and grades of hooded seal. That may be why
the sealers this year killed 16,000 hooded seals, twice
the hooded seal quota. The hooded seal hunt was
officially stopped several days before the false stop to
the harp seal hunt––but when Arthur Cady of the
International Fund for Animal Welfare suggested
that, “Somebody should be asking some serious
questions about this and the government’s inability to
control what’s going on,” DFO Newfoundland director-general
Lorne Humphries insisted the hooded seal
population could withstand the killing of even 24,000.
The DFO emphasized damage control
throughout the hunt. According to the Canadian news
magazine M a c l e a n ’ s, the provincially funded Nova
Scotia School of Fisheries in Pictou even devoted half
of a two-week course on sealing for would-be sealers
to “communications.”
Yet, information reached reporters about
other apparent instances of the government losing
control. Reported Katheryn King of the CBC on
April 4, “The DFO isn’t saying anything much about
a series of seizures it conducted today in the seal harvest.
It sent out a statement this morning saying it
had obtained search warrants and was seizing pelts
and records. It’s investigating possible violations of
the Marine Mammals Act. People on the Northern
Peninsula say the DFO is seizing records and pelts
regarding blue black-hooded seals. They say a buyers’
house in St. Anthony was raided this morning
and his receipts taken. There are also rumors that
some 10,000 to 12,000 pelts have been taken and that
the [seal-processing] plant in Dildo was raided.”
DFO figures on the seal hunt generally
raised suspicion. On March 30, for instance, less
than two weeks before the brief closure, the official
seal toll stood at 69,224. Lisa DiStefano of the Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society told ANIMAL PEOPLE
that although she and Sea Shepherd captain Paul
Watson overflew parts of the sealing area repeatedly,
she saw little chance that the count could have gone
markedly higher. “The ice is gone and the seals are in
the water,” DiStefano continued. “Even where we
did see ice, we didn’t see a lot of bloodstains where
seals had been.”
Brushing seals
Watson and DiStefano eschewed protest
again this year, for the third year in a row. “We
didn’t even contact any media,” DiStefano said.
Instead, Watson and DiStefano established a base of
operations on Prince Edward Island, where growing
potatoes has always been bigger than killing seals,
and then took German millionaire entrepreneur
Tobias Kirchoff and Reinhard Ollic of the Origo
mail-order fashion house out to the ice to witness
seal-brushing. In 1994 Watson and DiStefano tested
the brushing technique, finding that molting seals at
the beater stage welcome the attention. Last year they
tried to interest the sealers of the Madeleine Islands in
seal-brushing, only to be attacked by a mob. This
year they brushed enough seal wool to enable
Kirchoff and Origo to spin sample garments.
Watson’s belief is that just as soon as
enough people take up brushes and combs instead of
seal-clubs and guns, seal wool can be gathered in
enough volume to become the basis of a cruelty-free
industry far more lucrative than sealing ever has been.
The wool is water-resistant, he points out, lightweight,
and is a thoroughly renewable resource.
Logically the Canadian government should
be interested, having poured millions of dollars into
other forms of job creation in Atlantic Canada, ranging
from subsidizing sealing to building DeLorean
sports cars. But seal-brushing doesn’t suit the selfimage
of sealers, or give them an outlet for their
impotent rage at being left behind by the 20th century,
with little hope of making up ground in the 21st.

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