Fisheries Minister: "I don't care what this science paper says! The sealers want to kill lots of baby seals and that's good enough for me!" Photo: CBC

Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield has blatantly ignored the advice of his own scientists in setting the 2012 Total Allowable Catch for harp seals at an unsustainable 400,000.

In December of 2011 DFO Research Scientist and Head of Marine Mammal Section Mike Hammill concluded the harp seal population was declining due in part to lack of sea ice and reduced rate of reproduction.  As a consequence, Hammill recommended a 25% reduction in the TAC, advising anything in excess of 300,000 would be unsustainable.

According to DFO, the 400,000 TAC was guided in part by “the unanimous recommendation from industry representatives.”  In short, the Fisheries Minister ignored the advice of his own scientists and set the unsustainable TAC at the request of sealing/fishing industry lobbyists.

This is not the “science-based precautionary approach” to fisheries management DFO claims to take.  This is a blatant sacrifice of our marine ecosystem to buy east coast votes.  This is concrete proof DFO’s decisions are based on politics rather than science, and once again our oceans will suffer as a result.

Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield must call an immediate halt to the commercial seal hunt and save our marine ecosystem which has been severely damaged by years of DFO mismanagement.

Dingwall sealer Robert Courtney chasing terrified seal pups with rifle on provincial nature reserve Hay Island, 2011 Photo: R. Aldworth/HSI Canada

The Humane Society of the United States recently unveiled a new iPhone app that enables users to locate restaurants and food suppliers who boycott Canadian seafood products until such time as the commercial seal hunt is ended by the Canadian government.  John Grandy, Ph.D., senior vice president of wildlife for The HSUS, said “With the launch of this new iPhone app, consumers have a quick and easy way to bring their economic power to bear against this annual slaughter.”

Reaction to the new app was swift.  A spokesperson for Canadian Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield dismissed the app as simply a “recycled campaign of  ‘old tricks’ and ‘misinformation.’” and then proceeded to dish out liberal amounts of misinformation, herself.

Perhaps the most bizarre reaction was from Nova Scotia sealer Robert Courtney, who complained the Canadian seafood boycott was unfair in that it targeted fishermen not connected to the sealing industry.  “There’s some seafood producers in Canada that don’t do anything with the seal hunt, don’t have any connections with the seal hunt, so why would they be boycotting those people?  That alone tells about (their) credibility.”

Dingwall sealer Robert Courtney shooting terrified seal pups inches from each other on Hay Island, 2011 Photo: R. Aldworth/HSI Canada

If Robert Courtney wants to blame someone for the Canadian seafood boycott, the finger of blame can be pointed directly at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.  A DFO official inspired the boycott when he stated the Canadian government would consider ending the commercial seal hunt if fishermen asked it to do so.

Sealers are primarily fishermen who fish other species at other times of the year and who kill seals as an off-season activity for extra pocket money.   If fishermen believe they are being unfairly penalized for the actions of a small number of their members, they should speak up and demand the Canadian government bans the cruel and unprofitable seal hunt which taints the entire fishing industry and, indeed, the entire country.

Courtney also claimed that although anti-sealing campaigns have reduced world markets for seal products seal population must still be controlled, regardless of whether or not there is a market for them. “Sealers would prefer to be able to go harvest a seal and fully utilize the animal and we’ve put a lot of man hours and a lot of effort into doing that,” he said, noting they’ve done everything “possible to have a sustainable, humane harvest.”

Robert Courtney is guilty of misleading the public when he refers to the commercial seal hunt as “sustainable” and “humane.”  Having researched this issue for years and having personally witnessed the annual killing, I can assure readers it is neither of those things.

The ProtectSeals Canadian Seafood Boycott app can be downloaded from the iTunes App Store by searching for “protect seals.”

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.

Cape Breton Sen Mike MacDonald gives speeches about harp seals & waxes lyrical about the good old days when he was a boy in provincial capital of grey seal slaughters, Cape Breton

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.

Newfoundland Sen Ethel Cochrane bizarrely seemed to hold Dr. Lavigne responsible for muskrats being shot in Europe & asked questions better directed to a Human Resources Director than a Scientist!

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.”

Olympic skier-turned-Senator Nancy Greene Raine believes a large-scale slaughter of grey seals should be allowed on Sable Island, Canada's newest National Park! She also thinks disease-ridden seal meat is a "wonderful protein."

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:

Senate Standing Committee – Fisheries & Oceans
Fabian Manning (CPC), Chair
Elizabeth Hubley (Lib), Deputy Chair
Ethel M. Cochrane (CPC)
Rose-Marie Losier-Cool (Lib)
Sandra M. Lovelace Nicholas (Lib)
Michael L. MacDonald (CPC)
Contact form:
Donald H. Oliver (CPC)
Dennis Glen Patterson (CPC)
Rose-May Poirier (CPC)
Vivienne Poy (Lib)
Nancy Greene Raine (CPC)
Charlie Watt (Lib)
Marjory LeBreton – Ex-officio (CPC)
Claude Carignan – Ex-officio (CPC)
James S. Cowan – Ex-officio (Lib)
Claudette Tardif – Ex-officio (Lib)

Well, I seem to have offended a certain group of Nova Scotians with one of my recent blog posts.  Now now, I can hear you gasping in shock at this news: “Bridget? Offend animal abusers?  Neverrrrrr!”  But yes, as hard as it may be to believe, my blog entry on Sunday hunting during big game season in Nova Scotia has touched a nerve with a certain demographic of Nova Scotians who like to spend their leisure time torturing, maiming and killing defenceless wildlife for pleasure.  My inbox has been lighting up with dozens of angry, petulant and abusive responses.  Response hasn’t been this brisk since the last rash of sealers wrote threatening to shoot me!  These redneck hunters sure are a sensitive lot. I almost felt sorry for them.  Until I remembered the cruelty they inflict on our wildlife.

I’ve read all of their messages up to now because I figure if they take the time to send me something, the least I can do is read it, right?  It seems they were offended by my staunch opposition to hunting, quite naturally, and being called rednecks and wife beaters, again, quite understandably.  But what really made them angry, apparently, was the fact that they felt (1) I was denying their right to free speech by “deleting” their comments and (2) I was intolerant of opposing views and not interested in having a discussion about the issue.  Oh and yeah, (3) I am a “hypocritical bitch” and a “demented little troll.”

It seemed to be a common theme in the comments that the hunters had as much right to free speech as I do, so I should not be deleting their comments. 

My response:  Yes, you certainly do have the same right to free speech as I enjoy.  So start your own blog and express yourself to your heart’s content.  Nobody’s stopping you. [Psst, by the way, I'm not deleting your comments.  Submitted comments don't get posted immediately; they must be approved by the blog owner.  See, if you had your own blog you'd know that :) ]

Now, regarding the other accusation – that I was intolerant of opposing views and not interested in discussing or debating the issue (I forget the actual wording and to be honest I can’t be bothered to go back and check).  

My response:  No, I’m not interested in “discussing” or “debating” the issue.  When I became involved in animal issues approximately six years ago I had “discussions” and “debates” with people holding opposing views.  I quickly learned it was a massive waste of my time and energy.  I had my view.  They had their view.  Nobody was budging.  If I want a “discussion” or a “debate” on the issue, I will join a forum designed for just that purpose.

I don’t go trolling the internet looking for blogs that express opposing views from my own and post snide comments.  If I did, I certainly would not be surprised or outraged when my comments didn’t show up.  So all you redneck hunters out there, my advice to you is:  If you really want to exercise your right to freedom of expression, start your own blog and stay the hell away from mine, cos you’re wasting your time. ;)

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.

Fur Institute of Canada director Pierre-Yves Daoust helping sealer carry dead seal pup (Photo: Rebecca Aldworth/HSI)

After using provincially-held protected wilderness area Hay Island as his personal macabre laboratory (with the required permission of the Nova Scotia government being given freely, of course), Fur Institute of Canada director Pierre-Yves Daoust declared his testing of low-velocity bullets to be a “success.”  Daoust told media the experiment using low-calibre bullets was a success, but then added that everything must be done differently next year – the number of pups killed inhumanely must be reduced; a more destructive bullet must be used; and sealers must wait until the seal pup stops moving before pulling the trigger (these are wild animals, threatened and terrified – of course they’re not going to stop moving…).  This leads one to wonder, quite reasonably, how the experiment could be termed a “success”…

One also has to wonder why he’s never discussed with media the experiment he conducted on Hay Island in 2009, killing 200 grey seal pups, reportedly to test the effectiveness of wooden bats on grey seals.  Sealing foes have stated for years the wooden bats favoured by Nova Scotian sealers are inappropriate to use on grey seal pups which have much thicker skulls than harp seal pups.  It has been rumoured that the experiment went awry, DFO scientists were unhappy over the manner in which it was conducted, DFO highers-up muzzled the scientists and no more was heard about the “research.”  It should be noted that this is all rumour and nothing has been confirmed yet.  Speculation abounds as to why details and conclusions of that research were not made available to media and public.  Perhaps because it would be extremely embarrassing for DFO to admit they’d been “mistaken” all these years insisting killing grey seals with wooden bats was humane when it was actually inhumane.  Such a revelation would cause the public to wonder what other claims by DFO about the seal hunt are “mistaken”…Notably, Nova Scotia sealers were using hakapiks this year, rather than their usual crude wooden bats.

Fur Institute Director Daoust dragging a pup killed by his sealing buddies (Photo: Rebecca Aldworth/Humane Society International

There is a clear conflict of interest in Daoust being involved in researching killing methods on Hay Island.  He is not an independent veterinarian – he sits on the board of directors of the Fur Institute of Canada, along with representatives of the Canadian sealing industry.  The Fur Institute is an organization that receives government funding and lobbies on behalf of the commercial seal hunt.  When a Hay Island hunt in 2009 looked unlikely due to lack of buyers, the Fur Institute stepped in and arranged for Newfoundland-based NuTan Furs to purchase 200 seal pelts as “samples” for “potential buyers.”  (NOTE: the samples failed to impress, as there were no buyers in 2010 and the hunt had to be cancelled.)  Daoust recently stated he finds working with sealers “gratifying.”  It would not be unreasonable for one to assume he wants to be a sealer himself, given his behaviour on Hay Island this year.

Anyone who has watched the video footage and seen the photos from the Hay Island kill this year would find it difficult to agree with Daoust that the low velocity ammunition was a success.  Video of a sealer shooting one pup and then chasing its blood-covered nursery mate around in a circle for a full 30 seconds before finally shooting it as it lay cowering on the body of the first seal has surfaced on international news websites, sparking global outrage.  There is also footage of a terrified group of pups struggling to escape from a sealer as he leisurely following them, rifle aimed, pursuing them down among a cluster of rocks before finally shooting them in close proximity to each other.  There is nothing humane about causing unnecessary fear and distress to animals before killing them.  Even Daoust’s own statement that sealers must wait til seals stop moving before attempting to shoot them suggests it is not a quick and humane method of killing.  Seals are moving because they are afraid and trying to flee or protect themselves from the rifle-wielding sealer.  Daoust’s statement suggests sealers terrorize the pup, pursuing it until it can go no further or is too exhausted to struggle, before shooting it.  This does not sound humane to me.

Daoust says he finds it “gratifying” to work with Nova Scotian sociopaths (Photo: Rebecca Aldworth/Humane Society International)

But then, this experiment had nothing to do with animal welfare and humane killing methods.  It had everything to do with removing the “unpleasant optics” as referred to by former Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn.  The Canadian government and sealing industry claim shooting seals is more humane than clubbing seals, pointing out the majority of seals are shot, not clubbed.  Anyone watching video from previous years knows better than to believe shooting is a more humane death for these baby seals.  During the harp seal hunt, sealers are in boats heaving in rough waters, shooting at targets on a bobbing icepan.  Very rarely is a pup rendered unconscious or dead with the first bullet.  Every year at the harp seal hunt I see pups shot and left suffering on the ice before being hooked in the face and hauled on board where they are then either clubbed on the deck of the boat or thrown on a pile of carcasses to die slowly from their wounds.

The Canadian government and industry insist the commercial seal hunt is humane, yet they continually claim “improvements” will make the killing “humane.”  Just look at the much-heralded “three step process” which requires a sealer to stun, check for consciousness and bleed a seal before skinning.  Government claimed the three-step process would ensure the killing was humane.  Yet according to them, it was already humane.  So why the need for the process?  Because the Canadian government was trying desperately to stave off an impending European Union seal product ban.  In practical terms, the three step process as stipulated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans does not even conform to international veterinarian standards for humane slaughter.  Furthermore, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea admitted last year many sealers don’t even know how to perform the three-step process and need training.  There was at least one sealer on Hay Island last month that did not perform the three-step process.

The Canadian government is currently in the process of appealing the EU-wide seal product ban before the WTO, complaining the ban does not provide exemptions for so-called humanely harvested product.  So of course it is desperate to clean up the “unpleasant optics.”  The Canadian government knows the grey seal hunt in Nova Scotia is now more accessible to observers for documentation than the harp seal hunt, and it knows the documentation collected on Hay Island to date has been extremely damaging to government and industry’s claims the killing is humane.  Government and industry appear to believe that if clubs and hakapiks can be disposed of and replaced by rifles, the killing will look less violent and more sanitized.  I think they’ll find they are mistaken, just as their belief the so-called “three step process” would win the day was mistaken.

Coyote pups - more victims of the NDP govt's stupidity

The latest coyote-human encounter in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park has resparked the debate surrounding the Nova Scotia government’s coyote cull, planned to begin on October 15th under the guise of a “pelt incentive.”

As frightening as the experience must have been for the teenager involved, it was hardly the “vicious coyote attack”  the Chronicle Herald melodramatically termed it.  A 16-year old who was sleeping on the ground outside her parents’ tent, awoke to see a coyote standing over her.  The coyote ran away when she screamed and swatted it.   The coyote had bitten her scalp twice and stitches were required.

To me, it didn’t read as a “vicious attack.”  It read more like a case of a coyote, accustomed to finding scraps of food on the ground of a campsite, mistaking this girl’s head sticking out of the sleeping bag for food and giving a couple of experimental bites.  That’s not to diminish in any way the fear and pain she must have felt.  But vicious attack?  No. 

Of course the usual panicked cries of “they’ve got to be stopped before they eat my child!” could be heard immediately, and all coyotes are being branded vicious killers.  The truth is, if the finger of blame is to be pointed at anyone, it should not be pointed at the coyotes – it should be pointed squarely at the provincial government.

Rednecks with traps will be paid $20 by NS taxpayers to kill coyotes

When Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources Minister John MacDonell announced the coyote bounty in April, an “enhanced community public education program” was promised.  I called DNR this morning and spoke with the Executive Director of DNR.  She advised me the “enhanced community education program” had already been implemented and it consisted, for the most part, of a one-page large-print PDF document entitled Living with Coyotes in Nova Scotia uploaded to the DNR website and distributed to a few schools and other institutions.  The Executive Director said experts had also visited schools and would provide me with more information.

So to assuage the fears of the Great Unwashed Masses, the government offers a single page with a few general tips on living with coyotes in Nova Scotia.  “Enhanced community education program” to me would involve public service announcements on radio and television, billboards, public seminars, etc.  Not a one-page document put up on a website in the hopes someone will find it.  Of course, the government knows it needn’t put much energy into educating people how to live in harmony with coyotes because its top priority is to kill all the coyotes.

Public education is key if humans are to understand their behaviour shapes the behaviour of coyotes and learn to live in harmony with them.  This was glaringly apparent this morning during Rick Howe’s call-in radio show.  One caller told listeners coyotes showed up while he and his friends sat around a bonfire, and when one of his friends panicked and ran to the house, they were shocked that the coyote chased her.  Experts warn people that running from a coyote will trigger a predator response.  Another caller complained that neighbourhood cats were disappearing.  Experts warn people not to leave small pets unattended as they are viewed as an easy meal by coyotes in the absence of other prey.  Had the NS Department of Natural Resources made a serious effort to educate the public about living with coyotes, it is unlikely the Nova Scotian parents of the 16-year old would have allowed their daughter to sleep in the open on the ground in a park known to have coyotes roaming.  It is unlikely the campers on the lot before them would have left food lying around to attract coyotes.  If John MacDonell had done his job properly, this incident need not have occurred.  To anyone who might think it’s harsh to blame the Minister, reflect on this — how harsh is it, then, to condemn to death thousands of coyotes for the actions of a few?  That’s harsh.  Even harsher when one considers it is human habituation of wildlife that has led to this, and MacDonell and his staff know it.

Nigel Douglas, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association says mass killings are bound to happen when bounties are offered. "It's easy to point the fingers at wolves or coyotes or whatever for all of your problems, but when it comes down to it, it seems some people just like killing." Credit: CBC

Minister MacDonell said in April he didn’t care how many coyotes trappers killed.  He also said he wouldn’t mind if trappers eliminated half of the province’s estimated 8,000 coyotes by next spring.  Clearly he doesn’t understand the concept of compensatory reproduction.

And therein lies the rub.  Science indicates coyote culls don’t work because coyotes will reproduce at a faster rate to compensate for reduced numbers.  MacDonell knows culls don’t work.  That why, shortly before the government’s announcement, any documentation stating culls aren’t effective was removed from the DNR website.  And that’s why the government is not calling it a cull (or bounty, for that matter), but rather giving it the fancy name ‘pelt incentive for professional trappers’.  MacDonell claimed the “pelt incentive” “is a way to change coyote behaviour and reduces a problem wildlife population.“  Indiscrimate trapping for $20 a pelt is going to reduce the problem coyotes?  Doubtful.  Coyotes innocent of any offence will be trapped and killed.  Adult females will be killed, leaving pups behind to starve to death.  And what’s that about reducing a problem wildlife population?  That, my friend, is a cull.  You can dress it up as fancy as you like, but it is still a CULL.

Parks Canada has indicated it will not implement a cull in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.  Derek Quann, the park’s resource conservation manager, says a cull would not be appropriate or effective, saying park staff has effectively used loud air horns and pepper spray to deter coyotes from getting too familiar with visitors in the park.

I asked the Executive Director of DNR if the provincial Natural Resources Department had a response for Parks Canada statement and whether it would make them rethink the planned cull.  I was told I had to understand it wasn’t a cull.  It was an “incentive program for professional trappers.”  I told her politely that I appreciate it’s the official party policy that it’s an “incentive” and I understand that as a provincial government employee she was required to refer to it as an “incentive” but everybody knows it’s a cull.  And everybody knows culls don’t work.  Except for the Minister of Natural Resources.   But then, he also believes the distressed calls of a trapped coyote will send a warning message to other coyotes to stay out of that area.  Interesting, considering hunters use the sound of distressed coyotes to attact other coyotes.

John MacDonell, NS Minister of Wildlife Extermination (Photo: ERIC WYNNE / CH)

Ignoring science and commonsense the government of Nova Scotia stubbornly insists the cull bounty incentive will go ahead as planned.  On October 15th trappers will be paid $20 per kill and will be free to sell the pelt to any buyers.  And guess where the money is coming from to pay the trappers?  You guessed it – taxpayers.  In the spring our tax dollars are being used to subsidize the brutal slaughter of baby seals by commercial sealers in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and in the autumn our tax dollars will subsidize the brutal slaughter of coyotes by commercial trappers.  Once again Darrell Dexter’s NDP government has sold our wildlife to the highest bidder.

Why?  Some believe MacDonell is a good guy simply wanting to reassure the panicked masses and to appear decisive and strong, while others suggest he is pandering to the Trappers’ Association of Nova Scotia while wearing his Minister of Natural Resources hat.  Still others accuse him of colluding with influential livestock farmers while wearing his Minister of Agriculture hat.  His theories of how/why this cull bounty incentive are full of conflicts and contradictions which makes it apparent there is more involved here than a sincere desire to keep the Great Unwashed Masses safe.

The truth of the matter remains that WE have caused this problem; not the coyotes.  Through our own actions and habits, we are inviting coyotes into our neighbourhoods, yet panicking when they accept our invitation.  We need to understand how our behaviour affects and attracts coyotes and we need to alter our behaviour to re-establish a mutual respect between humans and wildlife.  This is the ONLY solution that will work long-term.  But it’s not the solution that’s going to put taxpayers’ money into the pockets of members of the Trappers’ Association of Nova Scotia, is it?

Yesterday Fisheries Minister Gail Shea announced the commercial seal slaughter in Newfoundland and Labrador would be extended to May 31st.  According to the press release issued by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, ”while the Marine Mammal Regulations set the closing time for the seal harvest at May 15 for commercial harvesters, the closing date can be modified through a variation order to adapt to changing circumstances.”

Gail Shea - ignorance is bliss

I think the good folks at DFO need to acquaint themselves with the Marine Mammal Regulations – they got it wrong.  The closing date for commercial sealers is not May 15th – it is June 15th.  I’ve been advised the closing date was changed in 2008.  But I guess that was before Gail’s time and she just hasn’t had a chance to read the Regulations which she claims sealers follow and DFO enforces.  If DFO doesn’t know the Regulations, how can it claim to enforce them?

This press release is simply one more of a long line of PR stunts designed to placate sealers and make it appear it’s business as usual for those who make a few bucks from bludgeoning baby seals to death.  Shea claims the closing date has been extended to ”allow sealers more time to make use of their 2010 allocations and provide them with an extended period of time to take advantage of potential market opportunities“  Oh yes, those allocations — the quota that was raised despite a marked absence of markets, a move that was condemned by sealers as “stupid.”  I’m sure sealers will agree yesterday’s decision is just as stupid.  If there are no markets, why tell sealers they can kill seals for an extra two weeks?  But actions speak louder than words.  According to Sheryl Fink, Senior Research and Projects Specialist for IFAW, a DFO representative confirmed to her that only ONE boat is currently sealing.  Looks like everyone else has gone home.  And why not?  There are no markets, “potential” or otherwise.  And now that Shea has inadvertently shut down the slaughter early, that’s where they’ll stay.

Photo: HSUS/Gray Mitchell

What a difference a couple of weeks and a [suspected] government subsidy makes.  At first it was doom and gloom for the commercial sealing industry as reality finally set in.  Due to unprecedented low ice and alarmingly high pup mortality, there were very few seal pups for sealers to butcher.  Newfoundland sealers were criticising Fisheries Minister Gail “Chucky” Shea’s increase in quota to 388,200, calling it “stupid” since there were no markets for seal products.  The largest buyer of seal skins – Carino – wasn’t writing any cheques because that company had stockpiled pelts from previous years it hasn’t been able to sell.  The other buyer – NuTan Furs Inc., previously known as Atlantic Marine Products Limited, a subsidiary of Newfoundland fisheries mogul Barry Group - had commissioned to purchase only up to 15,000 skins from a “dedicated group of sealers.”  Magdalen Island sealers killing pups on the opening days of the commercial seal slaughter admitted they were throwing pelts overboard because they could not locate a buyer.  Newfoundland sealers were staying ashore and crying on reporters’ shoulders because they’d have to miss out on bashing in the brains of defenceless baby seals to pay for their fags and booze.

Fast-forward two weeks and all seems suspiciously suddenly rosy in the Land of the Seal Killers.  Suddenly we are getting news reports that Newfoundland sealers are rubbing their hands together in glee because large concentrations of pups are hauled out on small icepans, meaning sealers are able to butcher large numbers without having to exert too much energy.  Says Frank Pinheadhorn of the Canadian Sealers Association, This is perfect conditions for sealing because the ice is not packed together,” he said. “Whatever ice is there is just filled with seals.”

Here’s where it gets really strange.  NuTan is reportedly paying sealers $25 per seal skin – double what they received last year.  Pinheadhorn estimates 60,000 pups have been butchered so far, and sealers expect to slaughter another 12,000 before they’re finished at the end of May. 

Photo: HSUS/Gray Mitchell

Okay, let’s review — no markets for seal products; largest buyer isn’t buying anything because it can’t sell skins from previous years; the sole buyer commissioning only 15,000 skins; no markets for seal products…yet sealers are planning to slaughter 72,000 seal pups and get $24 per skin from NuTan.  Sound suspect to you?  It certainly does to me.

Let’s face it.  Dion Dakins, director of NuTan Furs Inc. (also, coincidentally, a director of the Fur Institute of Canada – more on them later), is a businessman.  He’s not stupid.  He may be a callous sociopath eager to profit from severe animal cruelty, but he’s not stupid.  So why is he paying Top-Dollar to Newfoundland sealers for seal skins he knows he’ll never be able to sell?  Perhaps because it’s not his dollars being used to “buy” the skins?  Is this is a subsidy?  If so, who is paying?  The federal government or the Newfoundland government?  Or perhaps both in a joint venture?  ACOADFO?  72,000 skins at $24 a pop is alot of money – somebody has to be coughing up that money as a subsidy, cos those skins will never sell.

You may remember NuTan Furs is also the buyer who stepped forward in 2009 when no buyers could be found for the seal skins sealers hoped to rip from the carcasses of baby grey seals in Protected Wilderness Area Hay Island, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  The provincial government-sanctioned slaughter of up to 2,220 grey seal pups on that island was nearly cancelled when no buyer could be found.  Suddenly the Fur Institute of Canada stepped in with a Bailout for the Boys and arranged for NuTan Furs (Dion Dakins, the sole director of NuTan Furs is on the board of directors of the Fur Institute of Canada) to purchase 200 skins to use as fabric samples for potential buyers [NOTE:  The so-called “potential buyers” didn’t materialize, since the 2010 planned slaughter was also cancelled since again no buyers could be found and the provincial government decided against subsidizing the processing of seal carcasses “to meet the requirements of a buyer.”)  That slaughter of 200 seals for their skin smacked of government subsidy.  As does this slaughter of 72,000 harp seal pups.

Photo: HSUS/Gray Mitchell

Anti-sealing organizations are asking some hard questions.  Sheryl Fink, a senior researcher with IFAW is spot-on when she says, ”Something smells fishy here.  Why is it that Quebec sealers are throwing pelts back into the water while Newfoundland sealers now have a buyer for 72,000 skins? It seems strange if NuTan is able to purchase sealskins at almost double last year’s price when other Newfoundland processors are unable to get rid of their stockpiled pelts. It also seems remarkable that the demand for seal pelts would skyrocket in less than a week.

It’s a shame Canadian media is such a shower of cowards when it comes to this issue, steadfastly refusing to investigate clear indications of corruption in the commercial seal hunt issue and questionable practices by the Canadian government using taxpayers’ dollars to subsidize the slaughter and perhaps even buy the unwanted skins.  Canadian media would be able to ferret out that information sharpish.  But they’d have to grow some first.

Photo HSI Canada/Rebecca Aldworth

We left Newfoundland today to journey back home.  It hurts to leave while the slaughter of baby seals continues, but the majority of the boats are operating out of reach of our zodiac and helicopter.  The boats we had been filming have wiped out all seal pups in those areas and the once pristine pans of ice are now blood-soaked and completely bereft of life.

Our work here is done.  The HSUS and IFAW teams have documented multiple days of the slaughter and have captured compelling evidence this slaughter is completely inhumane and unmonitored, contrary to the Canadian government’s bogus claims.

The Canadian government can kiss goodbye any chance it feels it might have to win a WTO challenge to overturn the EU seal product ban.  As we leave Newfoundland, we take with us enough evidence to shut down this outdated and cruel industry forever.