Today the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council (FRCC) – a so-called “arm’s-length advisory body” whose members are actually appointed by the Canadian Fisheries Minister – released a report which recommends the wholesale slaughter of up to 70% of the entire southern Gulf grey seal population. Why? To see if it might help fish stocks. That’s right — yet another grisly experiment contemplated by the Canadian government. Add this to the last report which contemplated the slaughter and incineration of over 200,000 adult and baby grey seals on iconic Sable Island.

I’d love to say that I’m shocked by the Council’s recommendations but the sad truth is, I saw it coming. Not only has DFO and sealing officials been gunning for seals for years, but one of the members of the Council spouted to media this past February about how much he’d love to see an experimental cull of grey seals.

NS sealer about to bludgeon terrified baby grey seal on Hay Island 2011 (Photo: Rebecca Aldworth/Humane Society International)

Cape Breton biologist Dr. Bruce Hatcher was

appointed by then-Fisheries Minister Gail Shea in March of 2010. Less than one year later Dr. Hatcher expressed sorrow that a low number of baby seals were bludgeoned and shot to death on protected wilderness area Hay Island in 2011 and suggested if the seals didn’t like being killed on Hay Island they could move elsewhere.  SERIOUSLY.  “Hatcher said…If seals were to come find Hay Island an in hospitable place to be because of the hunt they could move elsewhere”…So I guess because the grey seals return to Hay Island to give birth each year, they must approve of the barbaric treatment meted out to them by sociopathic knuckle-dragging sealers.

Respected east coast scientists and marine mammal experts panned Hatcher’s comments in an Op Ed, stating the concept of a seal cull to improve fish stocks was “not scientifically defensible”, pointing out that many other species in the Southern Gulf consume cod (the greatest of which are cod themselves, and other fish), and cautioning the experimental cull contemplated would have no replication and no control, and would tell us nothing about the relationship between seal and groundfish.  Unfortunately, to my knowledge, their Op Ed was not published by Cape Breton Post, the paper which printed the Hatcher article.

Sheryl  Fink, seals campaign director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, got it 100% right when she said They’re taking a political decision to cull seals and trying to couch it in some kind of scientific language and portray it as an experiment.”  Dr. David Lavigne, IFAW Science Advisor makes an important point: A significant flaw with the FRCC recommendation is that it does not evaluate the interactions between seals and other species, and ignores entirely the positive effects of grey seals and other top predators on the ecosystem as a whole.

This strikes me as a thinly-disguised make-work project for disgruntled sealers.  The government wants to hide its own bumbling mismanagement of our oceans.  The knuckle-dragging sealers want to continue bludgeoning and shooting to death baby seals.  But there are no markets for seals, so what to do?  Get an “arm’s length” advisory panel comprised of scientists and fishermen to recommend an “experimental cull” and pay sealers handsomely for carrying it out.  It’s a win-win for government and sealers.  A huge loss for seals.  And a huge loss for Canadians if we allow this atrocity to continue. 

Nursing whitecoats and their moms will be targeted in a cull - no one will be safe (Photo: Mark Glover/HSI 2010)

The Council has made its recommendation and the decision now lies with Canada’s Minister of Fisheries & Oceans Ken Ashfield.

  The Minister should further mull a very important point made by Council chairman Gerard Chidley who told media the council is worried about how the rest of the world will perceive the cull:  “We are subject to intense international scrutiny that has the potential to put established markets for Canadian seafood products at serious risk”   TOO BLOODY RIGHT.  A boycott of Canadian seafood has been running successfully in the US for the past few years and has now expanded to Europe.  Additionally, there are concerns of tourism boycotts, including Nova Scotia where grey seals are slaughtered annually on several small islands, including provincial park Hay Island.  KEEP IN MIND — A CULL WOULD NOT ONLY TARGET WEANED PUPS — IT WOULD INCLUDE NURSING WHITECOATS STILL SUCKLING FROM THEIR MOTHERS.  DFO has always defended the commercial kill, declaring nursing whitecoats are no longer killed.  This will not be the case should a cull take place — many nursing whitecoats and newborns will be slaughtered alongside their mothers.  How will the world react to THAT?  Not well, I suspect, and the government knows it.  At this time when the Canadian government is trying to claim the commercial kills are humane and necessary, and trying to overturn the EU seal product ban, does it really want to sanction the wiping out of over 70% of the grey seal population, including newborn pups?  I hope Minister Ashfield will see the folly in such a move and will reject the Council’s recommendations.  But the sealing industry is a powerful lobbying body so who knows what the Minister’s decision will be…

Tune in tomorrow when I’ll be posting an action alert, urging all compassionate Canadians and members of the International Community to take action to speak up for beleaguered grey seals on the east coast of Canada.