Headsplitting problem on the ice
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1997:
ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland––Atlantic Canadian fishers
clubbed and/or shot their way toward a quota of 285,000 harp
seals and hooded seals this spring, the most in 15 years, because
they wrongly blame seals––who don’t eat much cod––for wiping
out overfished cod stocks. When the International Fund for
Animal Welfare produced videotape of illegally killed newborn
whitecoats on ice off Iles de la Madeleine, Quebec, the perpetrators
were quickly excused by DFO area manager Roger Simon.
“They’re technically white-looking seals,” Simon said.
“When the moulting process starts, the white fur is still there as
the new grey fur coming out is underneath. It’s no longer a whitecoat,
but it may appear white.”
The Canadian government used similar logic to reauthorize
the offshore seal hunt itself in late 1995, after a decade-long
suspension due to international protest. Throughout the 1980s,
governments both Liberal and Progressive Conservative traded
generous cod quotas for votes against scientific advice, until as
predicted the cod stock crashed. Forced to halt cod fishing indefinitely
in 1992, the Progressive Conservatives lost the next election––but
Liberal fisheries minister Brian Tobin turned the crisis
to his advantage by scapegoating seals. As he did, again contrary
to most scientific advice, he left the federal government to run
successfully for premier of Newfoundland.
The WCU recognized Atlantic cod among the 100
marine species added to the international “threatened” list last fall.
But that wasn’t what Canada wanted to hear. Bashed by the
seven-nation World Fisheries Council formed in August 1996 by
scientists from the U.S., Japan, China, Australia, Norway,
Mexico, and Denmark, Canadian politicians needed to claim that
seal-killing is bringing the cod back.
“Declines in stocks have stopped and individual cod are
in good physical condition,” new fisheries minister Fred Mifflin
pronounced. With another Canadian federal election expected in
June, Mifflin on April 17 announced the May 1 opening of an
18,000-metric-ton Atlantic cod season––about a third of the 1986
quota, but enough, after two weekend rod-and-reel cod seasons
held in September 1996, to whet hopes that the cod will return to
past plentitude. Scientists generally consider that hope misplaced.
They don’t get it
Human Resources Canada reported in May 1996 that
about 30,000 Newfoundlanders, 6,400 Nova Scotians, 2,400
Quebecois, and a handful of New Brunswick and Prince Edward
Island residents are still federally compensated for losing codrelated
jobs. HRC noted the “unwillingness of many Maritimers
to relocate,” due to “strong community ties, home ownership,
and an often unwavering belief that the fish stocks will return,”
confirming the findings of a 1995 audit that warned the goal of
moving half the displaced workers into other occupations would
not be met. The HRC report was disclosed in January 1997 by
Murray Brewster of Canadian Press, who got it through the
Canadian Access to Information Act.
Not all former cod fishers are hurting for money. One,
fined $5,000 in February for illegally catching cod last June, had
sold his cod license back to the Department of Fisheries and
Oceans for more than $100,000.
Other ex-cod fishers now fish out different species. The
DFO briefly closed the herring fishery in the Sydney Bight last
November, fined at least six fishers for either overfishing or
catching too many undersized fish, and then reopened the fishing,
hoping the fines made the point.
The Cape Breton lobster catch is down 30% since 1995.
“The exploitation rate is sometimes as much as 80-85%, and egg
production is very low,” University of Quebec oceanographer
Jean-Claude Brethes warned in January. About 1,000 New
Brunswick crab plant workers will be displaced over the next five
years, said a recent provincial government report, because the
local snow crabs are already gone.
Clearwater Fine Foods, of Nova Scotia, hopes to start a
saury-fishing industry. The plankton-eating nocturnal fish would
be processed into oil, for sale as a protein supplement. But saury
are believed to be near the base of the food chain for other fish,
marine mammals, sea birds, and squid.