Canadians hunt the last seal

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2000:

ST. JOHN, GRISE FJORD––The Inuk of Grise Fjord, Nunavet, formerly part of the Northwest Territories of Canada, marked the New Year with a “Last Seal of the Millennium” hunting contest on the ice off Ellesmere Island.

The unrestrained viciousness of Atlantic Canadian seal massacres meanwhile may get worse, as the Supreme Court of Newfoundland ruled 2-1 on December 14, 1999 that sealing is a provincial jurisdiction and that the Canadian federal government therefore had no right to charge 101 sealers with illegally killing whitecoats and bluebacks during the 1996 hunt.

The verdict, which the Crown had 60 days to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, could leave all authority over the hunt in Newfoundland waters with provincial fisheries minister John Effords. Effords vocally favors killing at least half of the Atlantic Canadian seal population, in hopes that killing seals will bring back cod.

However, cod remain commercially extinct in the region despite five years of sealing at levels approaching historic peaks.

David Lavigne and colleagues at the International Marine Mammal Association argued in the December edition of the journal Conservation Biology that as many as 1.4 million seals were killed off Atlantic Canada in 1996 through 1999, or from two to three times more seals than carcasses were salvaged, and that the Canadian government has ignored the killing of about 100,000 seals a year by Greenlanders in issuing official population estimates.

The official estimates are derived from a 1994 survey. Lavigne et al projected that the Atlantic Canadian seal population is now about 20% below the 1994 level.

IMMA is sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Ignoring the evidence of a seal population decline, Canadian fisheries minister Herb Dhaliwal on December 21 kept the federal harp seal and hooded seal quotas at 275,000 and 10,000, respectively, for the coming spring.


Dhaliwal indicated in October that Canada would endorse an expected challenge by Greenland of the European Union ban on seal product imports. Greenland is reportedly preparing to contend to a World Trade Organization tribunal that the import ban is not warranted by science and is therefore an illegal restraint of trade. However, since the seal product ban is not tied to a particular production method, as were U.S. laws pertaining to protecting dolphins from tuna netters and sea turtles from shrimpers that the WTO ruled were illegal “process standards,” the Greenland challenge is not presently considered likely to succeed.

Dhaliwal and other Canadian cabinet ministers are also reportedly supporting sealing industry pursuit of amendments to the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act which would reopen exports of seal pelts and other products to the U.S.

The Canadian sealers have apparently allied themselves with California, Oregon, and Washington fishers, who are pushing for MMP amendments to allow them to shoot seals and sea lions. Like the Canadians, they blame seal-and-sea lion population recovery for recently crashing fish stocks. As off Atlantic Canada, all serious scientific studies indicate that overfishing and habit change are the actual causes, and that fishing must be severely curtailed if the fish stocks are to have any chance of recovery.

The only good news for seals in Canada toward the end of 1999 was the December 15 conviction of sealer Nelson Waterman, of Fogo, Newfoundland, for allegedly sealing in a “whelping patch,” i.e. a place where a seal had just given birth.

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