Newfoundland asks to kill 2 million seals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 1999:

OTTAWA––With Canadian fisheries
minister David Anderson imminently
expected to announce the 1999 seal-killing
quota, Newfoundland fisheries minister John
Efford on January 5 recommended a “onetime
cull” of two million harp seals and grey
seals––almost half the total population, by
government estimates.
Should Anderson prove unwilling
to authorize such a slaughter, Effords said he
would favor increasing the annual sealing
quota to 400,000––68% more than were
legally killed in either 1997 or 1998.
Known for his furious assertions
that seals rather than overfishing are responsible
for the economically catastrophic depletion
of Atlantic Canadian cod, mackerel,
salmon, and skates, Efford buttressed his
recommendation with a 32-page report
authored by former Canadian Department of
Fisheries and Oceans head research scientist
George Winters.

Now working as a private consultant
in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Winters
was among the senior bureaucrats whose
studies helped create the fisheries collapse
that became evident circa 1993, by annually
encouraging fisheries ministers to set quotas
far higher than independent scientists warned
were the maximum sustainable.
International Marine Mammal
Association executive director David
Lavigne, whose work is funded by the
International Fund for Animal Welfare,
believes the actual sealing toll in each of the
past two years was already “more than
500,000 animals.” Some wounded seals sink
before they can be retrieved, Lavigne points
out––and some sealers illegally dump the
female carcasses, to save their quotas for
males, whose penises, coveted by the Asian
aphrodisiac trade, are almost the only seal
parts with verifiable marketability.
“We seem to be doing to the harp
seal exactly what we did to the cod,”
Lavigne warned in the Toronto Globe &
Mail. In a separate position paper, Lavigne
argued that “Canadian catches of harp seals,
together with estimated catches from West
Greenland, exceed Canada’s estimate of
replacement yield in each of the past three
years. Using the Canadian government’s own
arguments and language, hunts of this magnitude
should cause the population to decline.
In short, they do not satisfy Canada’s own

definition of a sustainable harvest. Total
removals of northwest Atlantic harp seals in
each of the past three years exceed the
Potential Biological Removal,” a mathematical
definition Canada uses to set quotas, “by a
factor of two to six times.”
Lavigne’s analysis was supported on
December 2 by an open letter to Anderson
from nine Ph.D.-holding faculty of the
Memorial University of Newfoundland, eight
of whom are biologists.
Robert Fife, Ottawa bureau chief for
The National Post, reported on December 30
that according to unnamed “insiders,”
Anderson “is leaning toward maintaining the
current kill quota at 275,000 seals––a number
that environmentalists say is placing Canada’s
seal population in jeopardy.”
Joining IFAW in asking that the seal
hunt either be terminated or cut far back were
Massachusetts Senators Ted Kennedy and
John Kerry; 11 members of the U.S. House of
Representatives, nine of them from states bordering
Canada; 70 members of the British
Parliament; and 74 members of the Dutch
The Sierra Club of Canada, taking a
first-ever position on sealing, told Anderson
that “this hunt is unsustainable, both ecologically
and economically,” as well as “cruel to
the animals involved.”
Greenpeace Canada, uninvolved in
the sealing issue since Paul Watson left the
organization in 1978 to form the Sea Shepherd
Conservation Society, broke a 20-year silence
with a similar statement signed by executive
director Jeanne Moffat and campaigner
Catherine Stewart.
World Wildlife Fund Canada stated
that “WWF is not opposed to the killing of
seals in principle, and recognizes the hunt’s
importance in the culture of both East Coast
and Arctic residents,” but added that “On the
basis of conservation biology, WWF Canada
does not support the deliberate reduction of
harp seal populations as a predator control
measure to save Atlantic cod…There is no convincing
evidence, as yet, that this predation
has any significant impact on cod stocks or
their ability to recover.”

But Anderson may be desperate to
find a scapegoat after low Atlantic fish stocks
on December 31 forced him to accept recommendations
from the Fisheries Resource
Conservation Council that what remains of the
cod quota should be cut another 30%, and the
hake quota should be cut 45%. The council
also recommended a 40% cut in the allowable
catch of pollock.
Even the Bay of Fundy mackerel
catch fell by about half last year
Atlantic Canada has already lost an
estimated 40,000 jobs because of the fisheries
collapse. As each fish species drops below the
threshhold of commercial exploitability, fishers
still in the business pursue the next most
lucrative species, producing a ripple of loss
which may include the complete regional
extinction of the barndoor skate, Jill Casey of
Memorial University and Ransom Myers of
Dalhousie University in Halifax reported in
July 1998. About 600,000 of the giant skates
inhabited the St. Pierre Bank, south of
Newfoundland, circa 1950. There were about
600 left by 1970, and it hasn’t been seen at all
The decline of species is exacerbated
by seafood poaching. Nova Scotia Department
of Fisheries and Oceans director of conservation
and protection Ted Maher estimates that
poachers account for about 3.5% of the total
Nova Scotia lobster catch––but the critical part
is not the number but the timing. Poachers, he
says, tend to take lobsters during their reproductive
season, so that their impact on the
abundance of the species is disproportionate.
Pressure from frustrated fishers to
kill seals is rising in other regions with depleted
fisheries, too––including coastal Maine,
where the New England Fishery Management
Council on December 10 recommended an
80% cut in the Gulf of Maine cod quota, to
avoid depletion as disastrous as hit
Newfoundland waters six years earlier.
Off Ireland, “Fishermen take every
opportunity of disposing of seals if they come
within rifle range,” the Connaught Telegraph
observed in November 1998.
An illegal seal massacre was discovered
on King Island, Bass Strait, Tasmania,
just before Christmas.
Seals in most parts of the world survive
at far below their historical numbers, and
often survive at all only because they eat a
variety of marine life, much of which is of no
interest to humans. But they are easily
blamed, encouraging the politicians of many
nations beyond Canada to allow fishers to vent
their frustration by bashing seals’ heads.
Because sport salmon catches are down,
Norway, for instance, in September 1998
authorized the Strand Hunting and Sport fishing
Association in Rogaland County to kill all
the seals they can find in the Jorpelands River
and nearby sea.
As to who makes money in sealing,
it all depends on who delivers the penises,
pelts, and any other parts in transient demand
first to the limited Asian market––now
depressed by economic collapse. Norway,
Namibia, Canada, and Russia are the major

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