Liberal Senator Mac Harb (Photo: THE MARK)

Today history was made in Ottawa.  Liberal Senator Mac Harb’s private member bill calling for the end of Canada’s commercial seal hunt was unanimously approved to pass for second reading.  Putting an end to Canada’s cruel and wasteful commercial seal hunt will FINALLY be debated in the Senate!

This is Senator Harb’s third attempt to get the bill through.  In 2010 He failed to find a seconder and the motion died a swift death.  In 2011 it was reported that Conservative Senator Lowell Murray seconded the motion but other senators voted against allowing the proposal to appear for discussion on the order paper.  Senator Harb, undeterred, returned for a third attempt and this time the motion was seconded by liberal Senator Larry Campbell and was then passed unanimously to move forward for second reading and debate.

Senator Harb’s bill calls for an end to the commercial seal hunt and compensation to be given to sealers.  The bill does not target or affect the Inuit subsistence hunt which is also exempt from the EU trade ban on seal products.

Reaction to this momentous event has been swift.  Humane Society International/Canada issued the following statement:

Senator Harb’s bill is timely and would effectively end the commercial seal slaughter in Canada. HSI/Canada further proposes that any legislation to end the seal slaughter be paired with a federal sealing industry buyout. This plan would involve the federal government ending the commercial seal slaughter, providing immediate compensation to sealers and investing in economic alternatives in the communities involved. Polling shows half of sealers holding an opinion are already in support of this plan and the overwhelming majority of Canadians are willing to fund it. Given sealers and other Canadians are willing to move beyond commercial sealing, it is time our government acted.”

The Green Party of Canada issued a press release which stated:

“The sealing industry had been dying for years,” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May. “It’s time to stop providing life support to this disappearing industry by ending the massive government subsidies. Taxpayers’ money is better spent creating sustainable economic opportunities in coastal communities.”

International Fund for Animal Welfare issued the following statement:

Senator Harb’s bill is supported by public opinion polls that repeatedly show the majority of Canadians would like to see an end to the commercial seal hunt.  At the very least, the Canadian government should debate this issue on behalf of those citizens. It’s time.

When asked about the chances of the bill ultimately being passed, Senator Harb replied, “I’m a realist. I do believe the government and the Senate will not allow me to get it through. But I want to get the discussion going, whether they like it or not. That’s democracy.“   Whether or not this bill is ultimately successful, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind this marks a turning point in Canada.  As the Chronicle Herald pointed out:  “But the bill is another hint that the days of unwavering loyalty to the seal hunt are coming to an end.” 

Reaction from the pro-sealing camp has also been swift.  Sealing industry representatives have spoken against calls to end the unprofitable seal hunt, claiming Canada’s sealing industry is “very much alive and well.”  They provide some disingenuous facts to back up those dubious claims.

Here, they neglect to mention the profits and exports have been declining with each passing year.  In 2011 the seal hunt brought in under $1 million, a figure dwarfed by the millions of dollars the Canadian government spends each year to subsidize the annual slaughter.  As well, substantial markets to seal products have closed since 2005.  The EU banned seal products in 2010 and Russia – which accounted for 90% of exports – banned sealskins last August.  Markets in China, long-promised by the Canadian government, have not materialized.

Hmmmm, just a tad misleading to claim sealskin prices have increased this year when the Newfoundland government gave $3.6M to a processing company to buy all the seal skins to stockpile in case markets pick up in future!  And let’s not forget the sum in excess of $17,000 the government paid a St. John’s furrier to shill sealskin at a recent international fur expo at which the only country present that did have a trade ban on seal products was Canada!!

In my opinion, an industry with a dwindling profit margin relying on subsidies from Canadian taxpayers and bailouts from the federal and provincial governments just to keep afloat is clearly NOT “alive and well.”  In my opinion, that is a drain on taxpayers should should be ended.

But of course Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette is blaming it all on the Vegetarian Lobby armed with pointy carrots and a secret agenda to turn the world into tofu-eating tree-huggers. And she also wants to market seal meat for our cats and dogs.  Oh Senator.  Don’t you remember?  They tried feeding seal meat to minks on fur farms.  The minks all died.

A frank and honest discussion about Canada’s cruel and wasteful commercial seal hunt is long-overdue.  Let’s start talking!

Sealer about to beat to death 2- or 3-week old pup still almost completely covered in whitecoat Photo: Sheryl Fink/IFAW 2012

I was reading an article in the Ottawa Citizen this morning detailing how the government’s failure to set start dates for the commercial seal hunt in Newfoundland was causing wide-spread concern for the problems it would pose for rural towns along the east coast.  Featured in the article were doomsday-style quotes by Canadian Sealers Association executive Frank Pinhorn and Bonavista Mayor Betty Fitzgerald.  There were warnings about rapidly expanding hordes of voracious harp seals patrolling the coastline devouring all the cod and dire predictions that if the the hordes weren’t ”controlled” (read: slaughtered via club, hakapik and rifle) the fish would disappear and so would all the jobs on the east coast.

It is difficult to discern if Pinhorn and Fitzgerald are honestly deluded about seals and cod, or are guilty of wilfully spreading misinformation. In any event, both are incorrect in their recent statements to media.

Pinhorn speaks of the “growing seal population,” claiming it is at a record-high of nine to 10 million, while Fitzgerald insists the seal population must be controlled to protect fish stocks. Both Pinhorn and Fitzgerald need to read the latest Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat’s Science Advisory Report in which DFO scientists Mike Hammill and Garry Stenson advise the harp seal population is declining, with a current population of approximately 7 million individuals, and accordingly, the Total Allowable Catch should be reduced by 25%.  There has never been credible science supporting these wild claims that seals are preventing fish stocks from rebounding after years of gross human overfishing.  In fact, for those who bother investigating the issue, there is an emerging wealth of information to the contrary.

Fitzgerald and Pinhorn are guilty of the sort of irresponsible scaremongering that promotes the misconception seals must be culled to protect fish stocks. In truth, science indicates seals play an important role in our complex marine ecosystem and should be protected for the overall health of our oceans. Fitzgerald and Pinhorn would do well to quit the melodrama and stick to the facts.

In terms of claims that “lack of an April seal hunting season could pose a problem for rural towns along the coast,” the only problem the cancellation of the 2012 Newfoundland harp seal hunt poses is the sealers would miss out on their annual beer-swilling baby seal-bashing social event.  As one sealer told Paul Watson years ago, “Every year we gets to go out on the ice, get away from the old lady, drink beer with the boys and whack seals” and as sealer Desmond Adams told media a few years ago, “We all go out for the love of it rather than the money, which isn’t there anymore.”  This is not a commercial seal hunt or a hunt for subsistence – this is a yearly social event for people who love beating and shooting to death screaming seal pups.  And Canadian taxpayers are footing the bill.  That, to me, is a very real problem.

Harp seal pup, Cape Breton, 2009 Photo: B. Curran/ACASC

Tomorrow is International Day of Action for Seals, with demonstrations being held across Canada, in the US, and around the world to show opposition to the slaughter of seals in countries such as Canada and Namibia.

Some may be saying: “It is 2012, why has this slaughter not been shut down yet?!”  You need to read this inspiring blog by IFAW’s Sheryl Fink, which shows the giant strides the anti-sealing campaign has made in the past few years, and the huge victories won for seals.

I first got directly involved in the seal hunt issue in 2006 and am amazed at the accomplishments of the past six years and deeply touched by the generosity, compassion and dedication of so many around the world battling on to win protection for seals.  We are very close to ending the cruel slaughter once and for all!

Here are a few actions you can take to help protect seals on the International Day of Action for Seals:

1. Attend a demo or rally in your area. Rallies are being held across Canada, the US and internationally.  A list can be found on Facebook HERE.

2.  Tell your MP to protect seals and provide sealers with opportunities to transition out of this dying industry. Canadians can use THIS FORM to quickly and easily email their Member of Parliament to urge them to protect seals and to show real support by sealers by helping them to transition out of the industry.

3.  Tell Prime Minister Stephen Harper to end the commercial seal hunt. The majority of Canadians oppose the commercial seal hunt, yet each year the Harper government lavishes millions of our tax dollars on the annual slaughter.  If you live in Canada please use THIS FORM – if you live outside of Canada, please use THIS FORM – to send an email asking him to respect the wishes of Canadians and stop the slaughter.

4.  Tell Canadian Ambassador to US Gary Doer to end Canada’s commercial seal hunt. Please use THIS FORM to send a message to Gary Doer urging him to listen to people around the world, protect seals and provide sealers with opportunities to get out of the crumbling sealing industry.

5.  Send an email thanking the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, and Belarus for passing their own seal product ban. The world was shocked when it was discovered recently the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Belarus had implemented a ban on import and export of harp seal skins.  This was a major blow to the Canadian sealing industry, as Russia was the largest purchaser of Canadian harp seal skins, representing 90% of the market for pelts.  The Canadian government is now pressuring Russia to reverse its ban.   Now is the time to send a quick message of thanks to those countries and urging them to stand firm in the face of bullying from the Canadian government.  Use THIS FORM to let them know the world stands united with them in their efforts to protect defenseless seals from a horrific fate.

Grey seal pups, Hay Island, 2010 Photo: B. Curran/ACASC

6.  Send an email to the Canadian Senate to urge protection for Grey Seals. The Senate Committee on Fisheries & Oceans is currently conducting a “study” on a proposed large-scale cull of grey seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  It is rumoured Canadian Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield advised the Committee he wants it to recommend a cull regardless of their findings.  Send Committee members a reminder that the decision should be made based on SCIENCE, not POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY, and no credible science supports a grey seal cull.  In fact, leading Canadian scientists strongly advise against such a cull!  Use THIS FORM to send your email to Senate Committee members.

7.  Boycott Canadian Seafood. Sealers are commercial fishermen who kill seals for a bit of extra cash in the closed season.  The Canadian government was the inspiration for the Canadian seafood boycott running successfully in the US and Europe when a government official stated it would end the commercial seal hunt when fishermen asked it to do so. Please add your name to the list of those boycotting Canadian seafood until the commercial seal hunt is ended.

Valentine available for download on Coalition website

On this day of love – Valentines Day – I’m asking my readers and friends to take a moment to send a Valentine to Nova Scotia’s premier Darrell Dexter to urge him to show some love for besieged Nova Scotia grey seals.

Each year on islands around Nova Scotia, grey seal pups are mercilessly slaughtered with clubs, hakapiks and rifles. Even pups on Hay Island, a so-called Protected Wilderness Area, are not safe as sealers invade that island each February to beat and shoot to death defenceless pups aged just a few weeks old. Government and the fishing/sealing industry have scapegoated seals for the sluggish recovery of ground fish stocks – despite the presence of scientific studies suggesting grey seal predation is actually assisting in ground fish stock recovery – and a large-scale cull of grey seals has been called for over the past few years, including seals on iconic Sable Island, Canada’s newest national park located in Nova Scotia. Leading Canadian scientists are opposed to any culling of grey seals.

Valentine available for download on Coalition website

Please mark February 14th this year by sending a Valentine to Nova Scotia premier Darrell Dexter, urging him to show some love for Nova Scotia grey seals by protecting them instead of allowing them to be slaughtered. Simply follow the link below, right-click on one of the images on the page and save to your hard drive. Then insert or embed into the body of the email and address it to premier@gov.ns.ca. Thank you for speaking up for Nova Scotia grey seals!


http://www.antisealingcoalition.ca/GreySeals/greyseal-valentines-2012.php

 

Senator Mac Harb, lone voice of reason in Canadian Senate, is calling for action on behalf of imperiled grey seals (photo credit: Erik Brush/CC)

I recently received an email from the office of Senator Mac Harb.  Senator Harb seems to be the lone voice of reason within the Canadian Senate.  It seems all other senators are blindly chanting the “SEALS MUST DIE!” mantra of the Harper government, following along like sheep with a scheme that will see over 140,000 grey seals slaughtered under the guise of a “targeted removal” but what is actually a vote-grabbing make-work project for sealers disgruntled at collapsed commercial markets for seal products.

And it is in the hands of the Senate Committee that the fate of grey seals lie.  The Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans is currently studying the issue and has already heard testimony from DFO officials as well as former members of the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council (the politically-appointed organization that recommended the experimental slaughter of grey seals). 

Scheduled to appear next week are the president and executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association. 

Notably, there is no indication the Senate Committee will hear testimony from leading scientists speaking against the cull.  Effectively, the Committee is only hearing one side of the argument.  But that is nothing new for this government.  There have been numerous allegations that while discussing the grey seal predation issue, scientists opposed to a cull were removed and replaced by those willing to adhere to the Harper government’s political agenda.

Incidentally, during DFO’s testimony to the Senate Committee, David Balfour, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Fisheries Management for DFO suggested all seal carcasses would be dumped in the water since there are currently no markets for seal products…So…not only unscientific, inhumane and unsustainable, but also wasteful…

I’ve copied and pasted the text of Senator Harb’s email below and have also set up an action page on the Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition website which lists all email addresses you will need to write to the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

You can also get updates on this issue at the Coalition website.

======

Dear Friend,

The Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has recently begun a study that could result in the killing of 70,000 grey seals off Canada’s East Coast.

The Fisheries Minister is pushing federal scientists to justify the slaughter of seals through contrived studies and one-sided hearings for political reasons. He has decided to ignore factors such as the impact of uncontrolled foreign overfishing in the waters off our coast and the total lack of scientific proof that seals are affecting the cod’s recovery.

The committee is considering an irresponsible cull that could, in my view, have serious negative impact on the Atlantic ecosystem and the long term health of many species, including cod. This slaughter would also result in untold costs to taxpayers and to Canada’s international reputation.

I have called on the committee to do due diligence and gather scientific evidence from all sides of this issue, not simply the studies that fit in with the unjustifiable goal of killing 70,000 seals. I urge you to write to the committee and its members who can be contacted through the Committee website http://senate-senat.ca/pofo-e.asp.

The government needs to know how Canadians and people around the world feel about this indefensible slaughter.

Sincerely,

Hon. Senator Mac Harb

Chers amis,

Le Comité sénatorial permanent des pêches et océans a récemment entrepris une étude qui pourrait entraîner la mise à mort de 70 000 phoques gris au large de la côte Est du Canada.

Le ministre de Pêches et Océans pousse ses scientifiques à justifier l’abattage de phoques par des études peu crédibles et des avis tendancieux pour des raisons politiques.

Il a décidé de ne pas tenir compte de divers facteurs, comme les répercussions de la surpêche étrangère non réglementée dans les eaux internationales au large de nos côtes et l’absence totale de données scientifiques qui prouvent que les phoques menacent réellement le rétablissement des stocks de morue.

Le Comité examine la possibilité d’un abattage irresponsable qui pourrait, à mon avis, avoir de graves répercussions sur l’écosystème de l’Atlantique et sur la santé à long terme de bien des espèces d’animaux, dont la morue. Non seulement ce carnage serait très coûteux pour les contribuables, mais il porterait aussi atteinte à la réputation du Canada sur la scène internationale.

J’ai pressé le Comité de faire preuve de précaution et de rassemble et d’examiner les preuves scientifiques de toutes les parties concernées, et non uniquement les études qui viennent appuyer un objectif injustifiable, celui d’abattre 70 000 phoques. Je vous exhorte à communiquer avec le Comité et avec ses membres. Écrivez-leur sur le site Web du Comité en cliquant http://senate-senat.ca/pofo-f.asp.

Le gouvernement doit connaître l’opinion des Canadiens et des gens du monde entier sur ce carnage indéfendable.

Sincères salutations,

L’hon. Mac Harb, sénateur

Photo HSI/R. Aldworth

Today was a truly awful day for grey seals.  The sealers descended on Hay Island early this morning and swung their clubs and hakapiks and shot their rifles until all moulted pups were dead.  Not content with that, they then shot at least one adult grey seal.

DFO was up to its old tricks trying to restrict observation of the Hay Island slaughter and as a result, by the time I got on the island, the sealers had finished their killing spree.  The carnage that I witnessed was heartbreaking.  As I walked across the island I saw small pups lying next to pools of blood where their nursery mates had been slaughtered right in front of their eyes.  I saw a massive bull that had been shot, lying close to a female and a whitecoat.  I saw a group of sealers laughing and smiling as they worked over a pile of carcasses, getting them ready to winch onto one of the sealing boats.

Photo: HSI/R. Aldworth

Thankfully, these unfortunate pups did not die without witnesses.  Humane Society International was on the island, as was media.  I have watched the video footage of HSI and reviewed their photographs and it was a horrible flashback to 2008 when I first witnessed the slaughter of grey seals on Hay Island.  Relentless repeated clubbing of terrified weeks-old pups in front of their nursery mates, whitecoats crawling through pools of blood, cuddling up to dead seals, not understanding what was happening…but there was something different this year – the testing of the low-velocity ammunition that the director of the Fur Institute of Canada/wildlife pathologist Daoust had wanted to conduct, claiming he thought this would be a more humane killing method.  Well, from what I’ve seen and heard, it’s definitely not humane.  Seals had to be shot multiple times, or clubbed after being shot.  One pup flailed about crying out in pain after being shot the first time and had to be finished off.  One sealer leisurely followed a group of terrified pups as they attempted to escape.  He took his time, advancing after them as they jostled against each other in panic to escape, before finally shooting one.  I saw a picture of one sealer tormenting a terrified pup as it sat next to a dead pup.  What sort of sick demented soul enjoys tormenting animals in this manner?  ‘Sick’ and ‘demented’ are two very apt words to describe Nova Scotia sealers. 

Photo: ACASC/B. Curran

My government has betrayed Nova Scotians again.  The provincial government must give permission for a slaughter to occur on Hay Island and each year they give that permission despite the clear evidence of cruelty and unsustainability.  Hay Island is a provincial nature reserve – it does NOT belong to commercial industry.  Hay Island is held in trust for us by the government.  The government has betrayed that trust time and time again.  Nova Scotians should be outraged about this and demand their government respect their wishes and protect grey seals in this province.

It is a comfort to know that most pups born on Hay Island this year escaped harm, having moulted and left the island before the sealers arrived.  It is also a comfort to know the grey seal hunt in Nova Scotia is just about finished.  Kill numbers have been decreasing in past years.  Baby seal killer Robert Courtney’s original claims of a buyer for the full quota of 1,900 never materialized.  If he’d had a buyer he would’ve been over to the island the moment DFO announced the official start date.  He wasn’t held up by weather every day – there was a window of opportunity and he didn’t take it.  It was a repeat of 2009 — no markets, no buyer, so a buyer was manufactured thanks to funding from the Fur Institute of Canada (and the federal government) to facilitate a “commercial harvest” and dubious scientific studies.  They needed to kill 100 seals for their experiment this year, and they killed approximately 100 seals.  What a coincidence.

Photo: ACASC/B. Curran

Gail Shea recently said, “To this end, the Hay Island grey seal harvest is properly regulated and effectively monitored, and those who break the rules are held to account.”  Reviewing the HSI video shot today, I saw violations of the Marine Mammal Regulations and saw no sealers “held to account” for those violations.  Shea is misleading the public into believing seals are hampering fish stock recovery and growing exponentially.  Neither is true.  Shea has the nerve to call us liars while she continues to spread untruths to Canadians.  She is the ultimate hypocrite and should be removed from her position immediately. 

There is no future for the sealing industry in Canada.  It is finished.  But the government fights on, with an endless supply of taxpayer dollars, lavishing millions on a crumbling industry that employs a tiny fraction of the population of the country, putting our international reputation, tourism industry and free trade talks with the EU at risk.  To continue killing seals flies in the face of science, logic and compassion.  There is simply no logic to it.  It is a grudge match, nothing more.  The Canadian government simply does not want to admit defeat and do the decent thing.

Tonight I reflect with sadness upon those poor souls slaughtered so mercilessly today on Hay Island and vow that in the coming year I will work harder than ever to ensure this never happens again.

I’m here in Sydney with the HSI team, getting all my gear ready for tomorrow.  I was really hoping the seals would be spared again this year, as they were last year.  But it’s not to be.  Tomorrow’s weather forecast is favourable for the sealers so they’ll be heading out to Hay Island first thing in the morning, intent on killing every moulted pup they find. 

When they set foot on Hay Island with their clubs and guns we will be there too, with our cameras.  We will be intent on filming the cruelty of this slaughter and sharing it with the world in order to shut markets down once and for all.

It is a small comfort to know that many young pups have already moulted and swum away to safety.  There are still, however, unfortunate babes that will fall victim to these sealers and their bloodlust.  One ordinarily would wonder why they’re bothering to go at all.  Dingwall baby seal killer Robert Courtney had boasted to media he had a buyer for all 1,900 pups.  However, they waited so long to go to the island that most of the pups have gone.  They had been held up by bad weather but Monday was a perfect day yet they had failed to go.  Why? 

It’s strangely reminiscent of 2009 when the deal fell through and it looked as if there would not be a slaughter on the island.  The Fur Institute orchestrated a hasty deal, with Newfoundland’s Nu-Tan Furs offering to purchase 200 skins for “fabric samples for potential buyers” (the purchase monies, no doubt, came from the federal government).  This allowed the sealers to do what they love to do – bludgeon baby seals to death - and facilitated the study of the effectiveness/humaneness of using wooden bats on thick-skulled grey seal pups.  It was so obviously a setup – a “bailout for the boys.”  I suspect, personally, this is what is happening now.  I suspect as the sealers go to Hay Island, they’re not concerned about all the pups that have made their escape; they’re not concerned they won’t reach the quota of 1,900.  Their sole purpose is to blow the heads off 100 seal pups in an gruesome experiment simply because Fur Institute of Canada director / wildlife pathologist Dauost thinks it might be a more humane way to kill seals.

Tomorrow is going to be a long hellish day full of images and sounds that will likely haunt me for the rest of my days.  But it has to be done.  We will end this.  Everyone knows there’s no future to Canada’s sealing industry.  Even its most ardent fans know it deep in their stony hearts – it’s over.  Very soon, in the near future, grey seals in Nova Scotia will be protected and valued not for the price their skin fetches but for the price a tourist will pay to photograph them in their natural setting. 

Here are three simple things you can do right now to help Nova Scotia grey seals.

I will likely not be able to upload my photos and videos until later tomorrow night, but will try to update through my iPhone, posting photos via Facebook and Twitter.  I will update this blog tomorrow night.

Off to bed now for a few hours of sleep.

Over the past couple of days I have been reading news reports that Fur Institute of Canada Director Pierre-Ives Daoust (who also happens to be a veterinarian) is planning to conduct experiments blowing Hay Island grey seal pups’ brains out with low-velocity bullets.  Well, actually, Daoust won’t be doing the brain-blowing himself – apparently he did his share of that last year.  No, this year DFO has hired two Cape Breton Neanderthals sealers to put down their wooden bats long enough for a spot of target shooting practice while a veterinarian trails behind them taking notes.  I hope they’re not giving a firearm to Shane Briand as the word on the street is that he’s not particularly adept with firearms.  Just ask him how he lost his leg.

What sort of person is capable of beating these pups with a baseball bat? Dingwall sealers Robert Courtney and Pat Briand do it every year (Photo: Bridget Curran/ACASC)

Daoust claims he thinks using handguns may be “more humane” than clubs.  However, he maintains clubbing is a humane method and claims his only aim is to see if there is a better way to kill baby seals.  This is all very interesting.  Pro-sealing interests have long denied using clubs is an ineffective and inhumane method of killing grey seal pups which are larger and have substantially thicker skulls than harp seal pups.  In 2009 DFO conducted a study – again using Hay Island baby grey seals as their grisly test subjects – reportedly to determine whether this was true.  Notably, the results of that study have never been published.  The word on the street is that something went horribly wrong during the study and DFO Science was at odds with the MuckyMucks of the Regional Office over the study itself and its results.  So the study was never published and in 2010 the Nova Scotia government and Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans authorized a slaughter on Hay Island using the controversial wooden bats.  Thankfully, the slaughter was cancelled when sealkillers could not secure a buyer. 

NS fishermen bludgeoning pups 2008 Photo: HSI/Canada

But in reality this has nothing to do with what may be “more humane” and has everything to do with what may look better.  Just as Newfoundland premier Danny Williams and Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn considering banning the hakapik from the harp seal hunt because of the “unpleasant optics” so too does DFO and Daoust wish to abolish the wooden bat and club to clean up the image of the grey seal hunt in Nova Scotia.

Anyone who seriously thinks using low-calibre bullets will have better optics than clubbing is incredibly naive.  On Hay Island, grey seals of all ages are herded together, including newborns and nursing females, and the moulted pups are killed mere inches from each other while traumatized mothers try to defend their young.  When the wooden bat was the killing implement the sights and sounds of it were hellish.  But using a gun will be no better.  Discharging loud firearms in a throng of terrified seals, brain-matter splattering all over traumatized newborn whitecoats, their mothers and other moulted pups as they try to escape…yeah, that’s REAL humane and REAL optic-friendly.
 

Dead grey seal pup Hay Island 2008 Photo: HSI

It’s time for the government and pro-sealing interests to face facts and stop trying to find lame justifications for exterminating seals.  DFO has evidence fish stocks in waters heavily populated by grey seals are rebounding.  Biologists are stating rate of growth of seal populations has slowed, they are stabilized and self-regulating.  Bang goes government and industry’s claims of “seals eating all the fish” and “exploding seal populations.” 

The truth, however unpalatable it may be to sealkiller fans, is that seals are worth far more alive than dead.  The commercial sealing industry is an unprofitable and failing enterprise, relying heavily on government subsidies via Canadian taxpayers, that threatens to damage tourism in this country and this province in particular.  Visitors to this province are horrified to learn we club baby seals to death in provincial nature reserves and many express a reluctance to return until the killing of grey seals is stopped.  As top predators seals play a vital role in our complex marine ecosystem.  Removing seals will damage our marine ecosystem and our tourism industry.  Conversely, an abundance of seals in this province can assist in fish stock rebounding and can bring in a vast amount of tourism dollars by way of seal-watching tours

Grey Seal pups on Pictou Island 2011 Photo ACASC/B. Curran

Why has DFO not published its long-overdue Science Advisory Report on the “impact of grey seals on fish populations?  Why has DFO gone ahead and set a grey seal quota of 60,000 – an increase of 10,000 from last year - in the absence of a current and valid Seal Management Plan?  Why has DFO not published its findings from the “science research” done on Hay Island in 2009 to determine the effectiveness of wooden bats on thick-skulled grey seals?  Is it true there is acrimony between DFO Science and the highers-up in the region about the results of this research?  Alot of questions, and DFO doesn’t seem to want to answer any of them…

Nothing can ever be done to make this slaughter humane, or to even appear humane, because it is NOT.  And that’s why it must end.  And it WILL end, whether pro-sealing apologists like it or not.  It’s just a question of whether the Nova Scotia sealers such as Robert Courtney, Pat Briand and his degenerate knuckle-dragging sons, and Willie Murphy want to stay in the Dark Ages with their club in hand, or move forward into the 21st century, put down their club and demand a licence buyout from the government for a better future for themselves and the next generation.

Bridget Curran
Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition

Photo ACASC/B. Curran

Today I was lucky enough to visit Pictou Island with members of the Grey Seal Conservation Society and a documentary producer who is making a film about grey seals in this province.   A few weeks ago it was reported that due to lack of ice in the Northumberland Strait, thousands of grey seals had come ashore on Pictou Island to give birth and nurse their young.  We’d been trying to get over to the island for a couple of weeks but the weather had made it impossible.  Today we had a narrow window of opportunity and we seized it! 

Getting to Pictou Island wasn’t difficult.  A two-hour drive to Trenton and a 15-minute plane ride and we were there.  But it was as if we’d stepped into another world.  And what a beautiful world!  Pictou Island is stunning in the winter, so I can only imagine how beautiful it must be during the summer months.  People who live there are truly fortunate.

Photo ACASC/B. Curran

The pilot had arranged beforehand for some kind residents to drive us to the various sites to photograph the seals.  I can’t even begin to convey the feeling of utter joy that swept over me when I saw the first pups on the beach.  The last time I’d visited grey seals was last year on Hay Island, a protected wilderness area that has been opened to commercial sealers since 2008.  That visit was tinged with sadness, as the pups were marked for an agonizing death at the hands of Nova Scotia fishermen wielding wooden bats.  This time, I knew these pups were safe and it meant the world to be able to sit with them and celebrate their life.

Photo ACASC/B. Curran

Many of the pups had moulted their white coats and taken to the water by the time we got there, and only a fraction remained on the island.  Fully-moulted pups were hanging out with moulting pups and a few recently-weaned whitecoats.  And they were everywhere!  On the beach, across the road in the woods, along the side of the road…Most of the adults were gone as well.  Females will wean their young, mate with a bull, and then leave.  I saw a few bulls swimming in the water, but only one or two adult females.

After a couple of hours photographing and videotaping the grey seals we reluctantly returned to the mainland while the weather held.  

Photo ACASC/B. Curran

The spell was somewhat broken when, as we were leaving, someone made a comment about how it would only be a matter of time before fishermen called for a cull of grey seals on Pictou Island.  Sad but true.  Fishermen ignorantly and stubbornly continue to insist ”there are too many seals” and “they’re eating all the fish” despite a complete lack of scientific proof to back up those claims.  In fact, science tells us just the opposite.  Seals are aiding in fish stock recovery and their populations are self-regulated and stabilized.  Still, the fishermen believe what they want to believe and pressure the government for culls and commercial hunts.  In Atlantic Canada generally what fishermen want, fishermen get.  The evidence is ignored - there is no justification for killing seals and in fact every justification for protecting them.; the majority of Canadians are opposed to the annual commercial seal slaughter; there are no commercial markets -  and today in 2011 the provincial government has again colluded with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans to facilitate the killing of 1,900 grey seals pups on Protected Wilderness Area Hay Island; the federal government currently is contemplating a scheme wherein 220,000 grey seals will be slaughtered and incinerated on Canada’s newest national park Sable Island; and the federal government has set a quota of 60,000 grey seals in Atlantic Canada without even having a Seal Management Plan!  Hard to believe.

Photo ACASC/B. Curran

This obscene desire of government to keep sealers happy has blinded them to reality — seals are worth far more alive than dead.  Not only is DFO Science evidence emerging that grey seals are aiding in fish stock recovery in Scotian Shelf waters, but seal-watching could be an extremely successful tourism venture.  Many people are envious when I tell them of my visits with grey seals and show them the photographs.  I know many people who would pay alot of money to spend time with beautiful wildlife in stunning natural surroundings.  Grey seal watching tours on small islands in this province would be a real cash-earner.

It just makes sense.  Protect the seals.  Leave them alone to play their important role in our marine eco-system which is aiding fish stock recovery.  Leave them alone to birth and nurse on islands in Nova Scotia and allow tourists to photograph them in their natural surroundings.  Stop killing them and everyone benefits.

DFO has long denied the Canadian government subsidizes the commercial seal hunt.  On its webpage Canadian Seal Harvest – Myths and Realities it makes the following claim:

DFO does not subsidize the seal harvest. Sealing is an economically viable industry. Some subsidies were provided prior to 2001 for market and product development, including a meat subsidy, to encourage full use of the seal.

$100,000 govt subsidy to Canadian Seal Marketing Group to attend trade shows in China

So government says no subsidies have been given to the sealing industry since 2001.  And yet a recent review of grants and contributions over $25,000 reported on the website of federally-run ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) revealed two sizeable contributions made to the sealing industry as recently as 2010. 

The first subsidy was a $100,000 contribution made by the federal government on May 10, 2010 awarded to Canadian Seal Marketing Group of Little Catalina, Newfoundland.  The contribution was to “attend trade shows in Russia and China.”   The Canadian Seal Marketing Group is an organization comprised of GC Rieber Carino Ltd., a Canadian company located in Dildo, Newfoundland; NuTan Furs Inc. of Catalina, Newfoundland; and Ta Ma Su Seal Products Inc. of Quebec.

$50,000 govt subsidy to Sealer's Cooperative to develop business plan to flog "value-added" dead baby seals

The second subsidy was a $50,000 contribution made on September 11, 2010 to Northeast Coast Sealer’s Cooperative Society, Limited of Fleur de Lys, Newfoundland, to “develop comprehensive plan for value-added seal products.” 

The Northeast Coast Sealer’s Cooperative Society is no stranger to financial assistance from ACOA, as it participated in the ACOA-led Atlantic Canada “seafood and aquaculture” trade mission to China in 2007.

Between 1995 and 2000 the government of Canada and Newfoundland provided $20 million in subsidies to the sealing industry, including direct payments to sealers.

And of course each year there are subsidies in the form of services and infrastructure - Spotter planes and helicopters are used to locate seal pups and radio coordinates to sealers (Interestingly, DFO refuses to provide those coordinates to licensed observers).  Coast Guard icebreakers are used to forge paths to the seal pups for sealers.  One icebreaker – the Amundsen – reportedly costs $50,000 per day to operate in winter months.  Vessels and helicopters are also used to rescue sealers and their vessels in distress.  On the administrative side, DFO staff processes observation permit applications and interviews each applicant.

Photo: HSUS/Gray Mitchell

Our tax dollars have also paid for expensive international trips for politicians, sealers and Inuit representatives to lobby against the EU seal product ban.  In 2007 the Canadian government organized a tour by European journalists to Newfoundland & Labrador and the Magdalen Islands.  The tour allowed journalists to meet with sealers, sealing industry bullies and politicians to give what the Canadian government claimed to be the truth about the seal harvest.  Interestingly, the journalists were not invited to witness the actual “harvest” as it took place. 

So many subsidies, so little time to detail them all…In April of 2008 the Financial Post published an article penned by Toronto lawyer/journalist Murray Teitel setting out the vast sums of money the Canadian government lavishes on this crumbling industry.  The article, entitled The millions Ottawa spends subsidizing the seal hunt, is definitely worth a read.

Polling consistently shows Canadians oppose the annual slaughter, yet millions of our tax dollars are lavished on the failing industry each year.  It would actually cost less to implement a licence buyback program!  A recent poll conducted with Newfoundland sealers concluded 50% of sealers holding an opinion were interested in a licence buyout.

Photo: ACASC/Bridget Curran

I recently asked Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff whether the Liberal Party of Canada would be willing to help Atlantic Canadian sealers should they decide to lobby the government for a buyout.  He stated that if sealers wanted a licence buyout, of course the Liberal Party of Canada would help them get it.  This was the first time Ignatieff has formally stated he would assist sealers with a licence buyout, and is a promising sign.

The Canadian commercial seal hunt is an unprofitable venture, a drain on Canadian taxpayers and an embarrassment to us all internationally.  It’s time to stop throwing good money after bad and shut it down for good.