Catch-22 and Canadian sealing
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1997:
ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland––Atlantic Canadian
sealers are ready to smear the ice with the blood and brains of
285,000 harp and hooded seals, the biggest sealing quota in 15
years, unleashing the frustrations of yet another year idle
because they fished cod to commercial extinction, elected
politicians who let them do it, blamed seals for falling catches,
and remain representatives of the corner of Canada with the
least economic prospects, the lowest average level of education,
and the most alcoholic violence.
There are educated, sober Atlantic Canadians,
including oceanographer John M. Lawson, biologist Edward
H. Miller, and biopsychologist William A. Montevecchi, all
of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Jointly correcting media coverage of a recent workshop
on the interactions of harp seals and cod, sponsored by
the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation, Lawson,
Miller, and Montevecchi stated in the March 11 edition of the
St. John’s Evening Telegram, “The workshop concluded that
seals played no role in causing the collapse of northern cod.
The scientists also concluded that the 1994 seal population,”
on which the present quota is based, “was 4.5 million, not 4.8
million as widely quoted, nor eight million, as some politicians
Further, Lawson, Miller, and Montevecchi said,
“To assess seal predation in isolation from the complex
ecosystem of which both seals and cod are part is both simpleminded
and ecologically ignorant.”
They expressed their trust that apologist for sealing
Fred Woodman, chair of the Fisheries Resource Conservation
Council, “as chairman of the advisory body charged with
channelling scientific information to the minister of fisheries,
will study the workshop report that was prepared and agreed to
by the 29 scientists from around the world––including
Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientists––and
will transmit its contents faithfully to the minister.”
Lawson, Miller, and Montevecchi spoke out after
scientists from 15 nations signed a statement at the 11th biennial
meeting of the Society for Marine Mammology, pointing
out the same misrepresentations of data by the Canadian government,
and calling for more honest use of science.
But telling Atlantic Canadians what they don’t want
to hear doesn’t win elections, and Atlantic Canada provides
the swing votes that keep the Canadian east/west,
Liberal/Progressive Conservative/New Democrat balance.
The $11 million to $15 million made from the government-subsidized
seal hunt isn’t the issue. Captain Paul
Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society found that
out on February 7, in case as a New Brunswick native and 25-
year anti-sealing campaigner he didn’t already know it, when
the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans denied him
a permit to continue development of a seal wool collection and
Seeking sound sleep
For more than two years Watson has had European
bedding maker Tobias Kirchoff interested in purchasing the
molting hair of baby harp seals to make into pricy but lightweight
cold-and-water-resistant blankets and sleeping
bags––perfect for snow-camping and mountain-climbing. The
hair, Watson and partner Lisa DiStefano have shown, is gently
and easily combed off the seals as they grow from the
whitecoat to beater stage. Collecting it makes the seals worth
more alive than the subsidy-inflated $24 U.S. apiece that sealers
get for their corpses.
However, the DFO won’t allow anyone on the ice
with the seals without a sealing permit. Sealing permits are
issued only to persons who killed fish, until there were no fish,
and now kill seals. The DFO wants Watson and Kirchoff to
collect seal wool on terms that would allow sealers to vent
humiliation at having to comb seals by braining them afterward.
The DFO evidently does not understand that the particular
cachet of seal wool sleeping gear would come from
enabling customers to sleep soundly, knowing the seals who
furnished the wool were alive and well on the ice.
Instead the nightmare continues. The International
Fund for Animal Welfare on February 10 refreshed global
memory as to what it’s about with 10 hours of videotape taken
last year by investigators who posed as hunting writers.
Documented are 144 violations of federal sealing regulations.
The Canadian Press news service noted “live seals being
pulled from the water with hooks, seals flapping about in prolonged
death throes after being shot, and seals lying in bloody
piles after being skinned,” some apparently still alive.
The first outside documentation of the Atlantic
Canada seal hunt, published 40 years ago, showed the same
kinds of mayhem.
Fisheries minister Fred Mifflin called it part of the
“annual crusade by IFAW to discredit the seal hunt.”
But IFAW couldn’t discredit it if it didn’t happen.