Will seizing Sea Shepherd ship help Canada to hold off European seal product import ban?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2008:
TOKYO; SYDNEY, N.S.-The Institute of Cetacean Research
acknowledged on April 14, 2008 that pursuit of the Japanese whaling
fleet by the Sea Shepherd Conserv-ation Society vessel Steve Irwin
had held their winter “research whaling” catch to just 551 minke
whales, 55% of their self-assigned quota of 985 minke whales and 50
“We did not have enough time for research because we had to
avoid sabotage,” said a prepared statement from the Japan Fisheries
The statement affirmed claims issued by Sea Shepherd founder
Paul Watson almost a month earlier.
Watson in web postings enjoyed the whaling industry concession, but
in the wake of one of the Sea Shepherds’ most dramatic successes in
30 years of whale-saving, the 2008 Sea Shepherd anti-sealing
campaign was all but stifled.
Acting on orders from Canadian fisheries minister Loyola
Hearn, “a black-clad Royal Canadian Mounted Police squad brandishing
submachine-guns” stormed the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat on April
12, recounted Keith Doucette of Canadian Press. The 17 crew
members were jailed overnight in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The
Farley Mowat was towed to Sydney.
Captain Alex Cornelissen, a Dutch citizen, and first
officer Peter Hammarstedt, of Sweden, were charged with approaching
within 900 meters of sealers on the ice without an observer’s permit.
Both were deported to their home nations, but were required to
return to Nova Scotia for trial on May 1.
“Hearn said the Farley Mowat came within nine metres of a
group of sealers on March 30, shattering floes as sealers scrambled
to get back to their boat. The charges could result in fines of up
to $100,000 or up to one year in jail, or both,” wrote Doucette.
Multiple time best-selling author Farley Mowat himself, now
86, posted bail of $5,000 each for Cornelissen and Hammarstedt.
Watson had planned to join the Farley Mowat crew for part of
the Atlantic Canada campaign, but was still in New York City when
the ship was seized. On April 24, Watson issued a press release
claiming to have “set the conditions for the Canadian government to
release the Farley Mowat.”
Contended Watson, “At no time did the Farley Mowat, a Dutch
registered yacht, ever enter the 12-mile [Canadian] territorial
limit. Therefore the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society considers
this action to be an act of high seas piracy. The Society will not
post ransom or bond on the ship. The Society demands the return of
the ship in the condition it was seized; compensation for the loss
of the vessel while under seizure; [and] the dropping of charges
against the captain and first officer. The Society demands an
official apology from Loyola Hearn.”
Watson said that he expected Cornelissen and Hammarstedt to
be acquitted, and intended to sue the Canadian government for
damages, including “punitive damages for high seas piracy.”
But with the Farley Mowat tied up in Sydney and Watson far from the
ice, the episode and the seal hunt itself dropped out of frequent
The Canadian government had already largely muzzled the other
major institutional sealing opponents, by denying early-season
observers’ permits to more than 60 applicants, including Humane
Society of the U.S. representative Rebecca Aldworth. Aldworth and
other HSUS representatives reportedly did reach the ice later, but
the seal hunt was no longer a front-page item at the HSUS web site by
the mid-April peak of the sealing season.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare offered a brief,
distant video clip of a sealer clubbing one seal who escaped despite
probable severe injury, then killing another seal, who was dragged
aboard a waiting boat. PETA offered a page one link to a site
protesting the much smaller Namibian seal hunt, but nothing about
the Canadian hunt.
Lacking new visual imagery and information to post, many
leading animal advocacy groups had never posted anything about the
2008 hunt at all.
Anti-sealing protest momentum continued in Europe.
Demonstrators in many cities on April 25 asked the European Union to
ban imports of seal pelts and other products made from seals.
Pledged EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas to Reuters
on April 12, at a gathering of EU environment ministers in Brdo,
Slovenia, “We will propose a ban of seal fur imports if [a nation] can’t prove they were obtained in a humane way. I’m very much
concerned at the way the hunt is conducted,” Dimas said, but added
that actually enacting the ban “will take some time.”
Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams and Nunavut
premier Paul Okalik told Reuters correspondent Chris Morris in St.
John’s, Newfoundland a few days later that they expected the EU to
vote on a ban of imports of seal products in June 2008. Okalik had
just returned to Canada after lobbying in Europe against the possible
ban. Williams and Okalik said they had asked Ottawa to ban the use
of hakapiks, or seal clubs, to improve the image of sealing.
“We need to show that we are genuinely interested in
resolving the concerns of people in Europe and around the world,”
said Williams, who first recommended banning hakapiks in 2006.
Responded Aldworth of HSUS, “Some of the worst examples of
cruelty that we filmed this year were sealers shooting at seals,
wounding them, and the seals suffering on the ice. Rifles are every
bit as inhumane.”
Canadian Sealers Association spokesperson Frank Pinhorn objected to
CBC News that banning hakapiks would be “like taking a hammer from a
An EU seal product import ban as Dimas has outlined it would
actually address the Namibian, Norwegian, and Russian seal hunts as
well as Canadian sealing, but all of the other seal hunts combined
kill a fraction as many seals as the Atlantic Canadian harp seal
hunt, which is distinct from the much smaller Native Canadian ringed
seal hunt conducted by the Inuit of the far north.
The Atlantic Canadian sealing quota for 2008 was 275,000, up
from 270,000 in 2007. About 30% of the Atlantic Canadian quota are
killed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This is the relatively
accessible and much documented first phase of the hunt. The Gulf of
St. Lawrence hunters chiefly use hakapiks. Because the seals are
mostly younger and killed at close range, the rate of retrieval of
clubbed seals is believed to be relatively high.
About 70% of the Atlantic Canadian quota are killed during
the sparsely monitored second phase of the hunt, along the remote
Labrador Front hunters mostly use rifles. They may kill far
more seals than the number actually landed and skinned, since
wounded seals often manage to reach water before sealers reach them,
and those who die in the water tend to sink.
Of all the protest groups who have tried to observe and
document the Atlantic Canadian seal hunt, only the Sea Shepherds–
twice–have managed to reach the Labrador Front. Most of the
published information about it comes from sealers’ own accounts.