Seal pups battling to survive catastrophic ice conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence will be bludgeoned and shot to death by sealers as the commercial seal hunt begins on the east coast of Canada today. Ignoring calls for the cancellation of the annual kill in light of unprecedented low ice and record high pup mortality, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans instead raised the quota to 388,200, up by 50,000 from last year.
When asked to close the Gulf to commercial sealers as a precautionary measure, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea stated that decision would be made by sealers. DFO insists the commercial seal hunt is based on science and the precautionary approach, but its actions contradict that claim. Important decisions which should be made by marine biologists and climate specialists are being left in the hands of fishermen wielding clubs and rifles – men who have a vested interest in driving seals to the brink of extinction and beyond. This is not a plan for conservation; it is a plan for extermination.
The decision to raise the quota and allow the seal hunt to continue is incomprehensible. Anti-sealing campaigners believe it is a political move, a pugnacious nose-thumbing to the EU and other critics, and an empty gesture of support to sealers. It is the latest in a long line of increasingly bizarre gestures, including Canada’s Governor General publicly eating raw seal heart in retaliation of the EU seal product ban; the failed motion of the Canadian parliament to dress Canada’s 2010 Olympic team in sealskin; forcing seal products onto G7 finance ministers during last month’s Summit in Iqaluit; and the recent addition of seal meat on the parliamentary restaurant menu.
Taken in context, the raise in quota does not come as a surprise. DFO, after all, has a history of sacrificing conservation in the name of politics. Just a few examples would be Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon, steelhead and salmon in Prince Rupert and Fraser River, porbeagle sharks, polar bears, and of course Atlantic Cod, which DFO mismanaged to commercial extinction.
In 2007, my first year observing the icommercial seal kill, DFO estimated in excess of 90% of pups born in the Southern Gulf had perished when their nursery ice melted prematurely. Inexplicably, DFO allowed sealers to kill the few surviving pups as they desperately clung to slushy icepans.
DFO makes decisions based not on conservation and science, as it claims, but on economics and political expediency. The Department routinely ignores the advice of its own scientists and the will of Canadians, the majority of whom oppose the slaughter and object to their tax dollars being used to subsidize and promote it. Every year millions of our tax dollars are lavished on the crumbling industry as the government panders to the fishing/sealing lobby for Atlantic Canadian votes.
DFO confirmed most pups born in the southern Gulf had perished but insists overall herd population is healthy. However, with increasing pup mortality rates and outrageously high quotas, seal herds are undeniably under stress. Realistically, even if DFO acknowledged seal populations were in jeopardy, history shows it would do nothing to protect them if it meant making a politically unpopular decision. Atlantic Canadian fishers stubbornly cling to the myth seals are responsible for groundfish stock depletion, despite the absence of science to support those claims, and are intent on annihilating a species they view as competition. Clearly, the government is quite happy to assist them in reaching this goal.
DFO assures us there is no cause for concern, as this is only one bad ice year. Wrong. Ice conditions in the Gulf have been getting progressively worse in the past 10 or so years, culminating in this year’s record-low levels. How many lethal ice years will it take before DFO acknowledges there is a problem? By the time DFO admitted cod stocks were in trouble, it was already far too late. Is it too late for Canada’s seals?