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 Thank you for speaking up for Nova Scotia grey seals!

Mom and whitecoat pup (Photo: Mark Glover/HSI)

Today I was fortunate enough to experience for the second time in my life what many Nova Scotians never get to experience – I was lucky enough to spend a few quiet hours with the grey seals on Hay Island.

We set off shortly after 9:00 a.m., under the watchful eye of a sealer and a DFO official standing together watching us as we departed in our zodiac.

As we skimmed along the ocean, the waves swelling around us and beautiful long-tailed and eiderdown ducks flying past, my emotions were chaotic – my excitement to see the seals again was tempered with sadness, for I knew many of the pups I would spend time with today are marked for a horrific death.

I’m here in Sydney with Humane Society International to document the upcoming slaughter of these beautiful pups. Within the next few days, a group of Nova Scotia fishermen wielding wooden bats will descend on Hay Island, herd all of these seals together – including nursing moms and whitecoats - and bludgeon to death every single moulted pup they find.  It’s the third year the massacre of greys on Hay Island - part of the protected Scaterie Island Wilderness Area – is to take place with the blessing of the Nova Scotia Environment Minister.  I was present on Hay Island to document the slaughter in 2008 and the Horror I witnessed is forever imprinted on my brain and my heart.

This defenceless grey seal pup shortly will die a horrific death at the hands of Cape Breton sealers (Photo: Bridget Curran/ACASC)

But today was all about life; not death.  Today we were visiting the seals to photograph and to spend time with them.  Today we were there to document their life.  Sadly, the next time we are there on the island we must document their death.

We arrived on the island just as the clouds rolled away and the sun made its appearance.  Pups who had shed - or were still shedding – their fluffy white coats were scattered around the island, some in groups, others more solitary.  The pups were just hanging out, some lying on their backs, eyes closed, a look of bliss on their face as they basked in the sun.  Others lazily scratched their sides with their flippers and called out to each other across the island.  Large adult females nursed their whitecoat young while keeping a close eye on my movements. Massive bulls hoping to mate with the females once the pups were weaned were never far in the distance, patiently waiting.

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

It would be so simple and inexpensive to establish seal-watching tours in Cape Breton. Hay Island is not far from the mainland – at most, a 45-minute boat ride. People would pay money to do what I did today. So why isn’t it happening? Because a handful of fishermen who enjoy killing seals continue to lobby our government for access to all grey seals in this province, even on protected land, such as Hay Island and Sable Island. Because our federal and provincial governments are rotten to the core and eager to sacrifice seals to secure the votes of fishing and sealing industries. And because not enough Nova Scotians challenge the lies their government tells them about seals.

Bridget Curran with baby grey seals (Photo: Rebecca Aldworth/HSI)

And it is all lies.  Government and industry claim the seals are eating all the fish, despite there being no science to support that claim.  Government claims there are markets for seal products, when in truth world markets are closing and every day more people around the world shun the products of this inherently cruel industry.  There is absolutely no reason this massacre must continue.

Anyone with an ounce of compassion in their heart and logic in their head who could stand on Hay Island and see what I saw today would agree — seals on “protected” land should be protected, not sacrificed to blood-thirsty commercial industry lobbyists armed with baseball bats and box cutters.  Make seal-watching the activity on Hay Island; not seal-killing.  It’s a no-brainer.  Well, it should be, anyway.  But then, we’re dealing with a government that assigned both Environment and Fisheries portfolios to one Minister – clearly a conflict of interest - so brains obviously  aren’t part of the equation here.

Shame on Nova Scotia’s MLAs who voted to open Hay Island to commercial sealers.  Shame on NDP Environment/Fisheries Minister Sterling Belliveau for refusing to listen to reason and condemning these pups to a painful and terrifying death. Shame on my government for handing OUR land over to seal killers and using OUR tax dollars to fund the slaughter.

The opening day of the Hay Island grey seal slaughter was Monday, February 8th. For some reason the sealers have stayed on shore, and the grey seals have been left in peace to live for one more week.  But the sealers will not stay away forever.  In a few days, they will go to the island with their crude wooden bats.  But we’ll be there with our cameras to document the cruelty.  We will document the horrific death of these defenceless seal pups and we’ll use the footage to shut down all markets and in turn shut down this horrendous industry forever.


Other ways to help seals:

Fisheries Minister Gail Shea announced DFO’s Fisheries Management Decisions 2009 to very little fanfare this week.  Well, no fanfare really, which is odd considering the bombshells contained therein.

1.     Closure of Southern Gulf Cod Fishery

Firstly, DFO is re-closing the directed commercial cod fishery in the southern Gulf.  Cod stocks are in such dire straits in the southern Gulf that all commercial fishing must cease.  Despite grave concerns, however, the recreational cod fishery (also known as the fun fishery) will be re-opened for four weeks. 

There are arguments that neither the northern nor the southern Gulf should have been re-opened for fishing in the first place.  DFO has consistently ignored advice and warnings from its scientists and have made decisions based on political expediency rather than conservation concerns.  Here’s a bit of a timeline of DFO’s mismanagement of groundfish stocks in the northern and southern Gulf of St. Lawrence: 

Originally, commercial cod fishing in the northern Gulf was closed in 1992 and the southern Gulf was closed in 1993.  After a moratorium of a few years, in response to reports of slight improvements in some cod stocks in 1999, a directed commercial fishery was re-opened with a take of 30,000 tonnes.   The following year the take was lowered to 20,000 tonnes.  In 2001 the take was lowered again to 15,000 tonnes.  Not surprisingly, a 2002 report to DFO revealed groundfish stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence had failed to show real signs of improvement.  A further report in March 2003 indicated that the slight improvement of groundfish stocks which had been reported in the late 1990s had reversed.   In April 2003 the Minister of Fisheries announced the closure of the cod fisheries.

In May 2004 then Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan announced his intention to re-open the northern Gulf with maximum takings of 3,500 tonnes, and the southern Gulf with maximum takings of 3,000 tonnes.

In 2005 Regan increased both TACS for the 2006-2007 season, setting a TAC of 5,000 in the northern Gulf and 4,000 in the southern Gulf.  Regan explained, “These TACS are cautious while these stocks continue to recover.”

In 2006 then Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn announced a TAC of 6,000 tonnes for the northern Gulf and 4,000 tonnes for the southern Gulf.  He also announced the re-opening of the recreational fishery for five  weeks, with daily individual limits of five cod per day and 15 cod per boat.  The recreational fishery had been closed since 2001.  Said Hearn, “I’m confident this is the right path forward.  Apparently not.

In 2007 the northern Gulf TAC was increased to 7,000 tonnes.  DFO announced that in response to scientific assessments indicating that cod populations in the southern Gulf had fallen to a record-low level, the TAC was being significantly reduced to 2,000 tonnes.  Despite concerns, the recreational fishery was opened again for a period of five weeks as was the stewardship cod fishery with an individual quota of 2,500 lbs.  Faced with reports of gross over-fishing during the 2006 recreational fishery, Hearn responded that he was not concerned.

In 2008 Hearn announced that in response to a “slight upward trend in abundance and improved survival for the Northern cod stock”, individual quotas for the Northern cod stewardship fishery was increased by 750 lbs to 3,250 lbs per license holder.  This represented a whopping 30% increase in quota from 2007.  The recreational cod fishery in the southern Gulf was once again opened for 2008 despite conservation concerns.

Given the above, how can the government point the finger of blame for declining fish stocks at grey seals? 

2.    Large-scale cull of grey seals

Claiming “the department’s most recent peer-reviewed scientific assessment indicated that grey seal predation appears to be a significant component of the very high mortality rates of cod in the southern Gulf,” Fisheries Minister Gail Shea has directed the Department to ensure the targeted removal of grey seals preying on southern Gulf cod.  This past March, DFO had raised the grey seal TAC to 50,000.

The Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat in its 2008 Report ‘Science Advice on Harvesting of Northwest Atlantic Grey Seals in 2009’ published in April 2009 stated evidence of the impact of grey seal predation on depleted stocks is inconclusive.  Further, the report of the recent DFO National Workshop on the Impacts of Seals on Fish Populations in Eastern Canada stated there is no analysis to suggest fewer seals would have a positive effect on fish stock recovery.


Why, then, is the Minister determined to direct a large-scale cull of grey seals?  Simply put, she is buying the votes of Atlantic fishers in preparation for an upcoming federal election.


Once again, DFO is using seals as scapegoats to hide its own incompetence.  DFO re-opened the southern Gulf commercial cod fishery against warnings from its own scientists. Now, to avert attention from its mismanagement and to placate fishers who are once again prevented from fishing in that area, it is declaring grey seals guilty of necessitating the re-closure.


Grey seals in three areas will be targeted – Gulf of St. Lawrence, Eastern shore and Sable Island.  Sable Island seals had in the past been protected by the federal government, but fishing interests have been lobbying the government for several years, aided by provincial Fisheries Minister Ron Chisholm, for access to the herd which is the largest breeding colony in the world.  The bulk of grey seals killed will be on Sable Island.


How quickly things change.  Just a short four months ago DFO mouthpiece Gus van Helvoort assured media that DFO was not considering a grey seal hunt on Sable Island despite repeated calls from sealers and Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Ron Chisholm.  At the same time, Ron Chisholm was assuring media that Sable Island grey seals would not be culled.  Yeah, like we believed that one…


The fishing industry is actually calling for a 50% reduction in grey seal populations in five years.  Such a reduction rate, if approved, would likely catapult grey seals onto the IUCN Red List as endangered! 


In Canada, important decisions affecting the health of our oceans are made based on political expediency rather than sound science.  As we have seen in the past, fishermen generally get what they want, using their votes as leverage.  As a top predator in our oceans, seals play a vital role.  To remove large numbers of grey seals is incredibly irresponsible and will further ravage an already frail eco-system severely damaged by human over-exploitation.


I’ll have more to say about this planned large-scale slaughter of grey seals in coming days.