Canadian sealers on thin ice

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2000:

ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland––An outspoken proponent of killing as many seals as possible in hopes of bringing the overfished cod back, Newfoundland fisheries minister John Effords at a February 7 media conference made no secret of his belief that seal hunt news coverage should be strictly censored.

“If I had my way, photographers wouldn’t be taking pictures of the seal hunt,” Effords told reporters. “There should be no pictures taken of any hunt.”

Agreed Canadian Sealers Association executive director Tina Fagan, “The time has come to stop issung permits” to photographers to be on the ice. Fagan called for a two-year moratorium on publication of visual images of the Canadian seal hunt.

There have been, in fact, few visual images distributed of this year’s hunt because unusually thin ice left few places for harp seals and hooded seals to whelp successfully.

More newborn seals are likely to drown by falling through the ice this year than will be killed by hunters, whose quota of 275,000 may be only half filled.

“Many young seals are dying even before the hunt has a chance to begin,” said Rick Smith, Canadian national director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Atlantic Canadian sealers landed 244,552 carcasses in 1999, though they are believed to have abandoned many more dead seals at sea. Fagan on April 4 projected that they would kill 100,000 fewer this year, as only about 25 vessels were expected to sail to the Front, the major offshore whelping area. Usually about 130 vessels make the trip.

Economics are also a factor in the slumping hunt.

“The price paid for a topquality pelt from a so-called beater seal, the name for a young harp seal who is no longer a whitecoat, is $13, down from $25 last year,” reported Michael MacDonald of Canadian Press. “Fuel prices meanwhile have almost doubled. Insurance premiums and deductible threshholds have also soared.”

Fagan acknowledged that the seal pelt market is glutted with the pelts from the million-plus seals whom Atlantic Canadians killed 1996-1999.

Norwegian sealers fell far short of filling their quotas in 1999, reportedly due to lack of demand.

Namibian fisheries minister Abraham Iyambo, however, in February announced that despite the lack of markets and despite his government’s policy of not disclosing sealing quotas, believed to be in excess of 40,000, “I can say with certainty that the total catch allowance for seals this year will be increased drastically.”

Like Atlantic Canadian counterparts, Namibian fishers blame seals for declining fish stocks, ignoring mounting evidence that overfishing is chiefly to blame.

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