I was absolutely sickened last night watching the hostile reception Dr. David Lavigne received from the Canadian Senate Committee of Fisheries & Oceans (“FOPO”). FOPO had been tasked by Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield to investigate the necessity/feasibility/wisdom of a proposed large-scale grey seal cull on Canada’s east coast and to then deliver its recommendations to him.
Interestingly, after many hours of “evidence” by Newfoundland and Magdalen Island sealers, fur industry executives and government bureaucrats from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada and DFO, and Fur Institute of Canada board member/veterinarian Pierre-Yves Daoust (who expressed grave concerns about a grey seal cull both from animal welfare and public health standpoints), the Committee has spent more time talking about harp seals and commercial markets than it has talking about grey seals and culls! In fact, on November 15th Newfoundland sealers presented to FOPO for two hours at the end of which presentation they apologized for not being able to talk about grey seals because their expertise was harp seals, not grey seals! Bizarrely, Magdalen Island sealers smuggled harp seal meat into Ontario (an illegal act) to present as a gift to FOPO members! More alarmingly, the Magdalen Island sealers talked about shooting seals in open water, a practice condemned by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association because of the high incidents of struck-and-lost (seals being wounded and lost in the water to die slowly)!
After weeks of “evidence” from sealers and government bureaucrats, no science had been discussed. DFO claims its decisions are science-based yet has no science to support a seal cull. In fact, no science exists to support claims seals must be killed to protect fish stocks. To the contrary, there is a wealth of evidence to support claims seals are responsible for the collapse of cod or the failure for ground fish stocks to rebound. Consequently, FOPO has heard no science during its presentations, one can only assume because the credible science didn’t support its mandate – to recommend a grey seal cull.
Last night, however, they finally had the science presented to them. And they did NOT like it. Their reaction was like that of disgruntled children who were being made to eat all their vegetables or told they would have to go to school on a Saturday.
David Lavigne is science advisor to International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and has studied seals for 45 years. He gave a well-informed presentation providing papers written by international and Canadian scientists, stating there are signs seal predation is assisting ground fish stock recovery and warning a cull is a risky undertaking given the important role seals play in our marine ecosystem. After the presentation, FOPO members began asking questions of Dr. Lavigne and it very quickly got out of hand.
Rather than listen to the scientific arguments against a grey seal cull, FOPO members ridiculed Dr. Lavigne, asked him exceedingly stupid and irrelevant questions about muskrats being shot in Europe, why IFAW moved its office and how many staff members the organization had, whether Dr. Lavigne believed FOPO should listen to science or sealers, whether Dr. Lavigne was a vegetarian, and even accused him of being involved in the anti-sealing campaign because it made him lots of money!
At one point while addressing a question about seal worms, Dr. Lavigne referenced Iceland. Senator Michael MacDonald from Cape Breton (prime grey seal slaughter territory where grey seal pups are killed annually on islands, including a nature reserve) flew into an apoplectic rage, shouting Iceland was not relevant and insisting Dr. Lavigne stick to the topic of grey seals in Canada. This was rich, considering he’d spent weeks giving speeches about harp seals and commercial markets and waxing lyrical about when he was a boy back in the good old days – you can’t get much more irrelevant that that in a hearing about a grey seal cull!!!!
In fact, Senator MacDonald’s rudeness and arrogance was breathtaking. At one point, he waved away a detailed diagram of our ocean’s complex food web, saying, “That’s a piece of paper, sir. That’s not the real world.”
When Dr. Lavigne was quoting scientific studies, MacDonald grumbled petulantly, “It seems to me your science is the only science that matters!” to which Dr. Lavigne responded that it wasn’t HIS science; it was the science of international scientists and even some DFO scientists.” MacDonald unsurprisingly ignored this fact and continued to complain childishly that Dr. Lavigne’s science was “the only science that matters.”
Senator MacDonald later complained to media about Dr. Lavigne’s presentation, saying “It’s all misdirection,” he said. “It’s all a shell game with these people. It’s all about avoiding the issue.” Again, it’s rich for a FOPO Senator to accuse a scientist presenting on the subject of grey seals of avoiding the issue!
In my opinion, FOPO showed its hand last night. It is clear to many now that FOPO had its mind made up before meeting with any parties for these presentations. It is clear to many now that when Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield asked FOPO to look into the matter he in fact instructed FOPO members to recommend a cull regardless of any evidence they may hear during the proceedings.
FOPO is rotten to the core, as is Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. This investigation is a sham and the Canadian taxpayers are footing the bill. As per usual, Canadian taxpayers pay through the nose for seals to be slaughtered.
Dr. Lavigne has provided FOPO with a list of scientists with whom members should confer, including leading Canadian marine biologist Boris Worm who has spoken against a proposed grey seal cull. Will FOPO meet with these scientists? Will FOPO members actually review scientific evidence warning against a grey seal cull?
FOPO has been warned a large-scale grey seal cull is a risky proposition and members should be prepared for unforeseen catastrophic consequences of such an action. Will FOPO give second sober thought to their mandate to recommend a grey seal cull regardless of evidence advising against it? If FOPO recommends a cull, are members willing to take responsibility for the final collapse of our marine ecosystem which will almost certainly occur as a result?
If you are as outraged as I am about the bias of FOPO and its aggressive treatment of Dr. Lavigne, please take a moment to send FOPO members an email telling them what you think of their behaviour and the sham that is this investigation: