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?

If Gail Shea is on sealers' side, why is she lying to them?

The article for which I was interviewed was published in Embassy Magazine today.  I see Gail Shea is still holding out false hope of miraculous markets in China to make everything alright again for the sealers.  I wonder how long it will take before they realize she’s lying to them.  If the Canadian government truly wanted to help sealers, it would dispense with the cheap and tacky publicity stunts, declare the seal hunt abolished, and implement a license buyout.  

However, right now, everyone seems to be in denial.  Shea says the seal industry is a “crossroad.”  Seal killer Jack Troake describes markets as “slumping.”  Clearly, they don’t want to admit that it’s over and are clinging to the belief things will improve in the fullness of time.

The closing quote in this article belongs to Shea: “We’re going full-speed ahead to try to develop this industry to the full potential it has.”  You do that, Gail.  Keep trying to open new markets.  As soon you open them, we’ll shut them down.

The article for which I was interviewed was published in the McGill Tribune today – take a look.

Chalk another marine ecological Disaster-in-Progress up to Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, currently run by Minister Gail Shea.

Bluefin tuna are killed in large numbers each year in tournaments in Nova Scotia. We can't have conservation spoiling the fun of these rednecks, can we?

Yesterday a proposal to ban trade in Endangered bluefin tuna was voted down.  Guess how Canada voted?  Canada voted against a trade ban.  Why?  Because PEI fishermen told the Minister a ban wasn’t necessary.  Experts advise that bluefin tuna numbers have declined by as much as 82% since the 1930s due to over-fishing and if fishing of this species continues, it will become extinct.  But hey, who needs all that pesky science when greedy fishermen from PEI say we don’t need a trade ban on this Endangered species?  DFO certainly doesn’t let science stand in the way of helping Atlantic Canadian fishermen drive species to extinction, so why should we pay it any mind? Commercial fishers aren’t the only ones wanting to decimate the bluefin tuna population.  Halifax is home to the Nova Scotia International Tuna Tournament when “international boaters rednecks gather in Halifax in a competition to catch the largest tuna.” All proceeds from the sale of the dead tuna goes to IWK Health Centre, a local hospital for women and children. Isn’t that a lesson to teach the kids – it’s okay to kill endangered species as long as you’re having fun…

But the Canadian government didn’t stop there.  Our government also wants to drive polar bears to extinction, and voted down the proposal for a trade ban on polar bear body parts.  Why?  Because Inuit claim to rely on the revenue they derive from delivering up polar bears (which have been listed as Endangered since 1975) to rich Americans to shoot for sport.

These two species join a long list of species sacrificed by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans in the name of economics and political expediency.  They join sockeye salmon in Sakinaw Lake (“In January 2005, a final decision was made by the Government of Canada to not list Sakinaw Lake sockeye salmon under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), due to the significant socio-economic impacts on sockeye fishers and coastal communities.“);  and Prince Rupert salmon; and stellar sea lion (“Although the Steller sea lion has suffered from many years of being hunted, since 1970 it has been protected in Canada under the federal Fisheries Act which prohibits commercial hunting of the steller sea lion. There have been instances where permits have been granted for the killing of the Steller sea lion, in an attempt to protect fish farms being preyed upon by the animals.“)and Atlantic cod which has been fished to commercial extinction

And then there is the porbeagle shark, which was designated as Endangered by the Committee on Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.  The Committee recommended to DFO that porbeagle be listed as Endangered on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act.  In 2006 the Canadian government decided not to list porbeagle due to the economic impact of such a listing on the commercial fishing industry (“…porbeagle shark is not being added to Schedule 1, because…listing the porbeagle would eliminate the directed porbeagle fishery and also prohibit the sale and trade of porbeagle shark that is by-caught in other fisheries. This would result in economic losses for some fishers and associated industries in coastal communities and the loss of industry-based sources of information on the species.“).   Again, economics trumped conservation.  Those are just a few examples.  DFO has a long history of sacrificing conservation in the name of economics and political expediency.

Inuit get paid big bucks to take rich Americans to shoot polar bears for sport. The Endangered bears are killed for sport and trophies. Respect for nature? Not so much.

To add insult to injury, our Fisheries Minister is dancing on the grave of bluefin tuna, applauding the decision and claiming “responsible management practices of Canada’s bluefin fishery helped swing the vote.”

Responsible management practices?  One need only look at how DFO mismanaged our cod stocks into commercial extinction to see through yet one more of Gail Shea’s lies.

Neil LeClair, P.E.I.’s fisheries minister was quoted as saying “We never thought there should have been a ban and the way we fish our tuna here and our conservation measures and the way the fishermen themselves look after the stock, there really was no indication that there should be a ban whatsoever.“ 

Hmmm, maybe Minister LeClair doesn’t realize that bluefin tuna are highly migratory.  There is no “our” tuna.  This means that once “our” tuna leave “our” waters (if they manage to make it out alive, that is, with all those greedy PEI fishermen gunning for them), they will be fished to extinction elsewhere.  Maybe Minister LeClair should give the implications of this further thought.  But then, he’s not being paid to think – he’s being paid to do what the fishermen tell him to do.  This is, after all, Atlantic Canada.  It’s part of our heritage and culture for our politicans to pander to the fishing and sealing lobbies and thumb their noses at the rest of us.

Gail Shea gives thumbs-up to decimating Canada's marine ecosystem Photo: Reuters

Canada found allies for its anti-bluefin tuna ban in Japan and China.  Japan is infamous for illegally slaughtering whales in the antarctic, rounding up and slaughtering dolphins in coves, and cutting fins off sharks before throwing them back in the water to drown.  And China…well, China skins cats and dogs alive for their fur and flesh. Gail Shea recently traveled to China on a sealskin-shilling mission.  The Canadian government said China has a very good potential as a market, referring to the fact that the Chinese aren’t troubled by animal welfare, will eat anything and protests are not allowed by government.  Are these really the types of countries with which Canada wants to align in matters of animal welfare and conservation?  I think not.

Gail Shea proves time and time again that she is a menace to our oceans.  She must be removed from her position immediately.  I received a very timely email this morning with a link to an online petition calling for Gail Shea’s resignation.  I signed it with gusto and encourage you to do the same.  Be sure to leave a personal message as this always gives your signature more impact.

Well, it’s certainly been a week to make Canadians cringe.  So much silliness, so little time.  Where to begin?

Seal Flesh Soirees and the Whores of Parliament

Iggy giving the thumbs up while trying to keep the gag reflex down

Let’s start with Senator CeCe, and her Seal Flesh Soiree.  MPs lined up to have their photos taken gagging down seal flesh and pretending to enjoy it.  Scott Brison made tasteless jokes about the cruel practice of fois gras.  Miss Newfoundland Baby Seal Slaughter 2009 attended in full regalia of tiara and sash, feeling, no doubt, that she’d hit the Big Time.  Senator CeCe manically shrilled to reporters about the joys of eating raw flesh as MPs slunk off to the toilets to gag the seal flesh back up before the brucellosis took hold.

The majority of Canadians are opposed to the annual seal slaughter and object to their tax dollars being used to subsidize and promote it.  Yet here were our elected representatives, slurping down the flesh of inhumanely killed baby seals and cracking jokes about cruel farming practices.  What’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong is that we Canadians let them get away with this foolishness.  Senator CeCe’s Seal Flesh Soiree was one of a long list of PR stunts orchestrated by the government designed to thumb its nose at critics and to make a token gesture of support for sealers.  Remember our Governor General’s raw-seal heart eating escapade with our Friends in the North?  Remember the unanimous motion in parliament to force our Olympic team to wear dead baby seal body parts as part of their official uniform?  Remember the recent G7 Finance Ministers retreat in Iqaluit, where international Finance Ministers were forced to sit on sealskin chairs, harassed at press conferences and invited to eat seal flesh at the ill-fated “Community Feast“?  Well, now we have the Seal Flesh Soiree with MPs working for the cameras, slipping bits of dead baby seal in their mouths and exclaiming, “Yum yum!  It’s so good and gamey!”  It just gets more and more surreal, and more and more cringe-worthy for Canadians.

The Canadian government knows the majority of Canadians oppose the seal hunt.  Even in the very region the killing occurs there has been a groundswell of opposition in recent years.  But government officials also know the majority of Canadians do not make the seal hunt a voting issue.  The largest lobby group is the fishing/sealing industry and the government is so desperate to get and keep those Atlantic Canadian votes they’re willing to whore themselves out and the rest of Canadians be damned.

Ultimately, the whole affair came off as pathetic.  A silly little tea party that accomplished nothing except make the Canadian government look even more ludicrous than they already did (is that even possible?).  And yet one more example of Our Tax Dollars at Work.


Senator Harb – A Real Man Amongst the Ball-less Wonders of Ottawa

Senator Mac Harb on the ice in 2009

Liberal Senator Mac Harb is the only senator in Ottawa with the ‘nads to do the right thing, stand up and express his true feelings about the commercial seal hunt.  Last year Senator Harb attempted to propose a private member’s bill to abolish the commercial seal hunt in Canada.  He failed to find a seconder and the motion died a swift death. 

Undeterred, Senator Harb was back this week, this time finding an ally in Conservative Senator Lowell Murray who seconded the motion.  Unfortunately the rest of the senators seemed to have forgotten their ‘nads at home that morning and voted against allowing the proposal to appear for discussion on the order paper.

Harb is not giving up, bless him.  Despite the heckling and booing from his so-called colleagues, he will stand firm in his resolve to abolish the commercial seal slaughter.  According to the Toronto Sun, he said he promises to keep introducing his bill until the law changes:  “’I have time on my side,’ the 56-year-old senator said. He can sit in the upper chamber until age 75.”

I love that man!  He certainly has my whole-hearted support.  Hopefully the other senators and MPs currently whoring themselves out for sealers will be shamed by Harb’s integrity and compassion, and they too will do the right thing.


Nunavut – Hypocrites and Racists Targeting Europeans?

Why has Nunavut banned EU booze but not US booze?

In a bizarre move, Fred Schell, MLA from South Baffin in Nunavut, introduced a motion banning from that territory all alcohol from the European Union.  The move is in retaliation for the European Commission’s overwhelming vote to ban trade in seal products within the 27-member states.  The EU ban provides an exemption for seal products derived from traditional aboriginal hunts.

Schell admitted the booze boycott would have negligible financial impact on the European Union, explaining it is a symbolic gesture to get the EU’s attention and end the seal ban without the need for lengthy court and WTO challenges.   “I had to push a point,” said Schell, ” that we are not happy here and there has to be an immediate solution, not (one) five or six years from now,” Schell said.

The latest news is the European Commission has already called an emergency meeting to discuss the catastrophic impact of the Nunavut Booze Ban and is currently taking a vote to reverse the seal product ban…NOT.

Said Gunther Thorberg, spokesperson for the European Vintners & Spirits Association, “I don’t think it’s right, what they did.  For a small population like we are, it affects a lot if you can’t sell your alcohol. That means a lot of dollars to a lot of people that have no other income other than making tipple.“  NOT.

The question that begs to be asked — and I’m somewhat surprised that no media has asked it — is this:  Has Nunavut also banned all liquor from the US?  After all, that country banned trade in all seal products back in 1972.  Has Nunavut passed a resolution to ban US booze as a retaliatory measure?  No.  Why not?  Is it because they simply don’t know about the 1972 US ban or is it harder and less convenient for them to swear off their favourite US tipple?

Some are branding Inuit in Nunavut as hypocrites and racists, targeting Europeans for doing something others are doing with impunity.  And they’re certainly not impressing anyone by likening the EU seal product ban to South Africa’s apartheid.

The Canadian government has been running a campaign to blur the line between commercial seal slaughter and Inuit subsistence hunt in a clumsy attempt to fool the public into thinking the commercial slaughter is necessary and traditional, and to capitalize on the general public’s acceptance of subsistence hunting.  A 2001 internal government memo acquired by IFAW through FOIPOP recommends the government “play the Nunavut Inuit card as leverage” to open markets for seal products “and have the east coast sealers follow.”   The Inuit seem quite happy to be used as pawns by the government for this purpose, even stating quite clearly they stand together with the Atlantic sealers and defend the abject cruelty of the commercial hunt.  As long as Inuit continue to allow themselves to be used by the Canadian government and as long as they support and defend the cruel Atlantic Canadian sealers, they can expect to lose the support of their fellow-Canadians.

This last news story reminds me of a column that appeared in a Newfoundland online publication a couple of years ago (can’t recall the name of the publication; if I ever find it again I’ll link to it here).  The columnist was indignantly saying he intended to boycott all European wine in retaliation for the anticipated EU-wide seal product ban.  He said he would be sticking with US reds and Canadian whites.  I emailed him to point out politely he’d likely have to switch to Canadian reds, since the US had banned seal products way back in 1972.  His response was, not surprisingly, quite abusive…

Yes, one heck of a Cringeworthy week for Canadians.

“I’ll have the seal meat in a special port sauce,” the MP intoned as he handed his menu back to the waiter, unsuccessfully stifling a belch with the back of his hand.  The waiter’s expression was pained as he replied apologetically, “I’m sorry sir, but seal is not on the menu this evening.”  “Whyever not?” demanded the disappointed MP, “Have you run out?”  “No sir,” replied the waiter.  “There is no media here this evening, sir.  The seal in port sauce is reserved only for photo-ops.”

Okay, it didn’t actually go down like that, but that’s the story released today — seal flesh isn’t actually going to be on the menu of the parliamentary restaurant, as was claimed last month.  Seal flesh will be served only on special occasions (read: political photo-ops).

Senator Celine likes her seals dead and thinks vegetarians are terrorists

In February, Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette (who I’ve been told prefers to be called simply ‘Senator Céline’ so be sure to address her as such in future correspondence to her.  And send her LOADS of correspondence – she loves hearing from the “vegetarian lobbies.”) bragged that seal flesh would be a fixture on the menu of the swanky Parliament Hill restaurant in Ottawa.  Last year an all-party advisory council managing the affairs of Parliament Hill gave its approval to the addition as a show of support for the inherently cruel commercial seal hunt and as a two-finger gesture to the European Commission just after it banned trade in seal products in the EU. 

Last month Senator Céline gushed to reporters “I am happy to announce the first time that seal meat will be served in the parliamentary restaurant will be on the menu Wednesday March 10, 2010!”

Not quite.

News today is that the unsavoury dish won’t actually be on the regular menu.  It appears it will be offered only during special occasions like Senator Céline’s seal flesh soirées, Michaëlle Jean’s seal suishi parties, and other media events.

Two harp seal pups, clubbed and left to choke to death on their own blood. Photo HSUS/B. Skerry

“Seal meat is not readily accessible; it’s something that has to be planned for,” said Heather Bradley, spokeswoman for House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken (times are tough when a girl has to be spokesperson for both the House Speaker AND the kitchen staff).  She also pointed out that it’s not always in season.  Senator Céline explained the change in plan as it being “difficult to get a regular supplier.” 

True, commercial sealers only have a small window of opportunity each spring to brutally bludgeon to death hundreds of thousands of baby seals, but hey — that’s what deep-freezes are for – bung all the dead seals in the Parliamentary Freezers.  They’ll keep forever to feed the endless stream of starving parliamentarians who will be lining up from January to December with their tongues hanging out “to try the seal.”  Or better yet, order it from the Inuit, who conduct a subsistence hunt during other times of the year.  Senator Céline has made a point of telling us how much she loves and respects the Inuit and supports their way of life and will defend to the death their right to hunt seals.  So why are sealers from the Magdalen Islands the Official Dead Seal Flesh Supplier to Parliament?

Canadian politicians think seal pups choking to death on their own blood is funny.

Of course, Heather Bradley and Senator Céline are loathe to state the obvious — seal flesh will not be on the regular menu because there isn’t enough demand to keep it there.  It was a gesture – an obscene gesture in every sense of the word – to support the sealers and send a “F**k you!” message to the European Commission for having the neck to actually listen to the wishes of its citizens and do the decent thing – ban the grisly products of an outrageously cruel slaughter.

I think perhaps the most humorous passage of the news article was Senator Céline comparing seal meat to turtle.  “It’s as if we were serving turtles. This is a very exotic, sophisticated meat and it is limited in quantity.”  That’s shilling at its best (worst?). Bacteria-laden seal flesh ripped from the carcass of a 12-day old pup.  Exotic.  Sophisticated.  For a limited time only.  Don’t Wait!  Buy Now!

Apparently Senator Céline is thinking about issuing an invitation for one of her seal flesh soirées to officials in the European Union.  She told media, “I guess I will have a special invitation for them.”  Poor Céline.  Has nobody told her?  Canada’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tried that.  Nobody came.