Atlantic Canada fishers ask to kill 2.5 million seals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1999:

HALIFAX–The Atlantic Canadian attitude toward seals could not have been more gruesomely dramatized than by the sight of the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Martha Black crushing seal pups too young to flee as it hacked a channel for the clubbing and skinning crews to follow.

Captured on video by the Inter-national Fund for Animal Welfare, the Martha Black was treating the seals not even as a valuable resource, as sealing promoters pretend, but as just something in the way: something smaller, more fragile, upon which frustrated maritimers can vent their wrath that overfished cod are gone, perhaps forever, and that a way of life based on exploiting the ocean is inevitably soon to go with it.

The Atlantic Canadian extractive lifestyle won’t go down, however, without a last-stand effort to kill every alleged
competitor for fish first. The federally appointed Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, representing the fishing industry, made that clear in a May 6 report demanding that the sealing quota for 2000 be expanded from the present 275,000 to 2.5 million: half of the total current high-end estimate of the Atlantic Canada seal population.

The quota is based on carcasses retrieved. International Marine Mammal Association scientist David Lavigne, whose research is funded by IFAW, estimates that sealers actually retrieve the remains of only 60% of the seals they kill. George Winters, an investigator funded by the Newfoundland government, puts the retrieval rate at 90%.

Canadian fisheries minister David Anderson said on April 28 that, “I am not against a cull,” if culling seals would help cod recovery, but added that there is currently insufficient scientific data to warrant a cull. At Anderson’s direction, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans is reviewing the interaction of seal and cod populations. The FRCC is one of several panels which are to have input into the analysis. The FRCC report followed reported demands by Newfoundland fisheries minister John Effords that two-thirds of the seal population be killed.

Sealers say “Shut up”

After Canadian Sealers Association executive director Tina Fagan hinted through the media that Effords should stop inflaming opposition to sealing, Effords said he was misquoted. He then changed the subject to defending his son, John Effords Jr., who had just been arrested for illegal squid-jigging, and was fined $500 on May 17.

Fagan acknowledged that there isn’t even a market for many of the seals that Atlantic Canadians are killing now. Only one processor, Carino Canada Ltd. of Dildo, Newfoundland, was still purchasing pelts as of late April, with the market glutted, and Carino was paying just $10 apiece, down from $25 in 1998. There was even less demand for seal meat.

Despite a requirement, on paper, that all of each seal be used, sealing captain Ralph King admitted in an April 15 CBC broadcast that he just threw the meat from the 150 seals his crew killed into the sea. Fagan predicted that the 1999 total of seals landed would be 47,000 under quota.

What market for seal products exists may soon be cut even thinner, as on April 1 the Inuit-owned Natsiq Development
Corporation announced it will start a commercial kill of up to 24,000 ringed seals in the newly created Nunavet territory of northern Canada. The NDC plans to build a seal processing plant next year. Calls for revived sealing are also coming from some Gulf of Maine fishers, whose cod limit per trip was dropped from 200 pounds to just 30 pounds on May 1 by the National Marine Fisheries Service, but the New England Fishery Management Council on May 25 asked
Commerce Secretary William Daley to raise the limit back to 700 pounds after fishers complained that the low limit was forcing them to toss cod overboard.
At the meeting, held in Plymouth, Massachusetts, financially struggling fishers reportedly almost rioted when NMFS
officials told them about a new $52 million data collection system that will be used to set limits.”Give us the money instead!” the fishers shouted.

Seal birth control

If seals really were the cause of cod depletion, killing them wouldn’t be necessary to bring the cod back. Even if the loss of food supply didn’t bring the seal population down, as would logically happen, Dalhousie University biologist Warwick Kimmins and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in March announced that they have perfected and begun production of a contraceptive vaccine for seals. Costing under $10 U.S. per shot, or much less than the average investment to kill a seal, the vaccine can be injected into wild seals via plastic bullet. The vaccine was tested several years ago on several hundred of the 150,000 grey seals who breed each spring on Sable Island. More than 90% of the seals who were shot with it are still not reproducing.

Kimmins is reportedly now working on versions of the vaccine to be used on wild horses, elk, deer, moose, dogs, and cats.Anti-sealing protest was muted this year as the major anti-sealing organizations participated in the DFO review of seals versus cod. In March, however, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson took 10 days off from monitoring Makah efforts to kill a gray whale (page one) to join the crew filming the screen edition of his 1995 book Ocean Warrior as they did ice shots in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Watson took the opportunity to announce that his next book, Seal Wars!, is to be published before the 2000 seal hunt starts.

Despite the low profile of anti-sealing activity, however, sealers and the Canadian government were as hostile as ever to outside observation of the killing. Only 35 observers were permitted to visit the ice, and many of them ran into trouble when they did.

IFAW official Nick Jenkins, a reporter for the German newspaper Bild Zeitung, and two reporters from the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf said on March 23 that four French-speaking sealers beat them with fists and a hakapik (seal club) two days earlier, smashed a video camera belonging to Theo Terweil of De Telegraaf, and tried to take the film from their still cameras. Instead of charging the sealers with assault, the DFO hinted that the observers would be charged. Charges were also brought against British TV cameraman James Millar and American photographer Richard Sobel, for allegedly going too close to sealers.

“Quite simply, the government of Canada does not want an orderly observation of this hunt,” IFAW-Canada director Rick Smith said. “Thousands of carcasses are littering the ice–not something the government wants the world to see.”

Stalled prosecutions

Efforts to prosecute sealers for videotaped violations of DFO so-called ‘humane killing’ rules hit delay after delay.
“The seal hunters’ home video that I released in February 1996 contained footage of the 1995 hunt, and resulted in a number of convictions, including for skinning a seal alive,” IFAW campaign director A.J. Cady told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “Our undercover footage of the 1996 hunt was released in February 1997, after our analysis of it was complete. Seven sealers were charged as a result of that video,” but the case was postponed on April 20 after Newfoundland judge Robert Fowler called IFAW undercover cameraman Chris Wicke “a sophisticated con man” and threw out Wicke’s evidence because he had stopped videotaping as many as 77 times in 23 minutes of videotaping.

This would not be a large number of breaks in news videography, which tries to capture highlights without repetition,
but evidentiary videotaping normally requires keeping the tape rolling.

On May 5, the Crown said it would try again to introduce the Wicke video when the case resumes on September 27.
Meanwhile, said Cady, “The DFO has not yet filed any charges as a result of our 1998 footage, which showed multiple
instances of sealers bleeding or skinning seals alive. As always, officials express outrage when our video is shown to the public, but then drag their feet, only file a few charges, and never address the root problems.”

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