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.

 

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

If anyone had any illusions the Canadian government is being truthful about the commercial seal hunt, those illusions surely have been shattered this past week.  I grew up knowing the commercial seal hunt was wrong, the killing was cruel and the whole disgusting business was unnecessary.  My grandmother, originally from a remote island known as Rams Island (later renamed Iona before being cleared and its inhabitants moved to the mainland) in Newfoundland, disagreed with my view, and I remember bitter words being spoken on the subject.  But when I actually witnessed the killing for myself for the first time in 2007 it struck me – the Canadian public has truly been betrayed by the Canadian government.  The Canadian government uses our taxes to fund the killing and misleads us in regard to every single aspect of the sadistic practice, while branding people like me – who have seen the slaughter with their own eyes – liars.  I have never lied about what I have witnessed in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.  The Canadian government is the guilty party.  Here are just a few of the many lies told by our government:

LIE #1: Baby seals aren’t killed.  THE TRUTH:  Oh yes, they are – even protected whitecoats and bluebacks are killed by sealers.

This seal pup is almost completely covered in white fur and was likely 14 days old when it was killed. Not even eating solid food, still very much a baby. Photo Frank Loftus/HSUS 2011

The Canadian government claims all seals killed in the commercial seal hunt are self-reliant adults.  In actual fact, seals targeted during the commercial seal hunt are between the ages of 12 days and three months, with most being under one month of age.  Many, like the pup in the photo here, are still almost completely covered in white fur at the time of their death.  At this age they are not swimming, nor are they eating solid food.  Recently weaned, they live on fat reserves built up from their mom’s milk until they’re ready to leave the ice and swim away.

In truth, a seal can legally be killed once it begins moulting its whitecoat, which usually happens at about 12 days of age.   Recently weaned, unable to swim, escape or defend themselves against sealers, they are as helpless as babies and certainly are NOT the self-reliant adults DFO would like you to believe are the target of the commercial seal hunt.
The Canadian government is quick to point out that since 1982 it has been illegal to kill whitecoats (harp pups younger than 12 days) and bluebacks (hooded seal pups younger than 14 months).  This ban came into effect following an EU-wide ban on whitecoat seal products which caused the sealing industry to collapse.  The Canadian government has been silent on reports coming from observers that sealers were documented killing protected bluebacks.
 
LIE #2 – The commercial seal hunt is humane.  THE TRUTH – Every year observers compile hours of videotaped evidence sealers routinely violate woefully inadequate Regulations and inflict horrific cruelty on seal pups.
 

Conscious seal pups are stabbed through the eye socket and jaw with metal hooks and hauled onto boats - this is NOT illegal and is documented each year. Photo: Frank Loftus/HSUS 2011

I observed the commercial seal hunt from 2007 – 2010 and the horrors I witnessed will stay with me forever.  I was unable to travel to Newfoundland this year but have been following closely reports from Humane Society International/Canada and IFAW observers.   The reports have been grisly, to put it mildly.  Just a few instances:

  • Sealers failing to perform 3-step process, slicing open seal pups still alive and possibly conscious;
  • Seal pups showing conscious reaction to pain – voluntary movement – after being sliced open and hurled into the bottom of sealing boat;
  • Seal pups being shot in close proximity to each other as they desperately try to escape;
  • Seal pups being shot in the face, neck and back, suffering on the ice for long periods of time before boats reach them to finish them off;
  • Seal pups being shot on the ice and just left to die – sealers not even retrieving them from the ice – killing for sport;
  • Terrified seal pups being harassed and manhandled by sealers posing for photos.

 

This video, by International Fund for Animal Welfare, shows a seal pup sliced open and thrown into a boat, waving and clenching a front flipper in pain as it bleeds to death slowly in the bottom of the boat with other seal carcasses.

The bottom line is the commercial seal hunt cannot be conducted humanely.  Several factors prevent the annual kill from ever being humane.  The speed at which it is conducted (this year, in just one week 20,000 seals were killed by approximately 39 boats); extreme weather conditions; geographical location and inability of DFO Enforcement to monitor the killing to make sure killing is as humane as possible are just a few examples.  It is simply impossible for seals to be killed humanely during the annual seal kill and that’s one compelling reason the killing must be stopped.

LIE #3 - The commercial seal hunt is tightly regulated.  THE TRUTH – Regulations are inadequate to properly address animal welfare concerns and are not enforced by DFO.

HUMANE?? Photo R. Aldworth/HSI 2011

The Marine Mammal Regulations which govern the killing of seals in the commercial seal hunt are woefully inadequate to properly address animal welfare concerns.  For instance, the Regulations allow live and conscious seals to be hooked through the eye socket or jaw and dragged across the ice and into boats.  The Regulations allow pups to be shot and left, wounded and suffering, on the ice for extended periods of time before being killed by sealers.  Even the much-heralded 3-step process does not satisfy international veterinarian standards for humane slaughter.  The 3-step process, introduced by the Canadian government in 2008 as a cynical ploy to stave off a threatened EU-wide seal trade ban, is not even incorporated into the Marine Mammal Regulations; it is simply a licence condition.

In my years observing the seal hunt I saw many violations of the Marine Mammal Regulations.  From what I have been reading and seeing of this year’s slaughter, this could very well be the worst in terms of numbers of violations.  According to observers, sealers are routinely violating the Regulations and licence conditions – failing to perform the 3-step process, cutting into live and possibly conscious pups, using what appear to be illegal killing implements, killing protected hooded blueback pups, killing for sport, not landing the carcass or the pelt…the list goes on and on.  And throughout this brutal bloodbath, where is DFO enforcement?  That leads me to the next lie.

LIE #4 – The commercial seal hunt is closely monitored and enforced.  THE TRUTH – DFO does not monitor or enforce the killing of seals during the commercial seal hunt in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland.

Pups are routinely wounded with bullets and left suffering on the ice, waiting helplessly for sealers to come and beat them to death. Photo Frank Loftus/HSUS 2011

Observers at this year’s commercial seal hunt are reporting a distinct lack of DFO Enforcement presence in the killing zones.  While observers videotaped sealers committing Reg violations for hours, DFO was nowhere in sight.  This is nothing new.  During my years of observation, DFO was never around to document the killing.  Even when Coast Guard boats were in the vicinity, the sealers did what they liked with little or no regard for Regulations or even rudimentary animal welfare, while DFO looked the other way.   Each year observers submit hours of unedited footage to DFO showing clear violations of Marine Mammal Regulations.  Very few charges are ever laid by DFO as a result of this evidence given to them.

In various conversations I’ve had with DFO regarding the commercial killing of grey seals on islands in Nova Scotia, DFO has confirmed there is no constant monitoring of sealers as they kill seals.  In 2007 I was told by a DFO official, “We don’t stand there looking over their shoulder as they’re working” and in 2010 it was confirmed DFO visits periodically just to check up on things.  I’ve been advised by someone familiar with Nova Scotia sealers that the periodic DFO visits have more to do with bringing coffee for the sealers than actually monitoring the killing.

On Hay Island, a nature reserve in Nova Scotia, grey seal pups are herded together and beaten or shot to death mere inches from each other Photo R. Aldworth/HSI 2011

The truth is, even if DFO had the will to actually monitor the killing and enforce the Regulations, it is physically impossible to do so.  Even in the smaller Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, DFO has never been able to control the sealing boats and for years sealers killed above and beyond the Total Allowable Catch.  DFO admitted to reporters a few years ago it was very difficult to control the boats there.  If DFO staff cannot control boats in the relatively small Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, how can they possibly claim to be able to control boats in the much larger Northern Gulf or The Front?  In previous years, hundreds of boats participated in the commercial seal hunt.  In recent years that number has dwindled to a few dozen, but those boats are operating in an area the size of France.  DFO has a small number of vessels and limited staff – there is no physical way they can monitor the killing or enforce the law.  And yet each year they lie and claim that is precisely what they are doing!

As the reports come in daily and the videos and photographs are shared via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, the Canadian government has fallen strangely silent.  Neither Fisheries Minister Gail Shea nor Prime Minister Stephen Harper have cared to comment publicly about their many falsehoods being exposed.  Of course they don’t care to comment, since they believe they don’t have to answer to Canadians, the majority of whom, polling consistently shows, oppose the annual slaughter and object to their taxes being used to fund it.  This is why more than ever, Canadians need to make the seal hunt a voting issue.

Coming tomorrow - Lies My Government Told Me (Part 2) dealing with more porky pies told by our government, including such chestnuts as ‘Full utilization of the animal’, ‘Sealing provides much-needed income to coastal communities’ and ‘Sealing is a time-honoured tradition.”  What a load of crap…

What does one do with hundreds of pounds of dead baby seal flesh no one wants?  Feed it to the homeless.  Hey, they’re homeless; they’re bound to be hungry, right?  And, after all, beggars can’t be choosers, can they?

The sealers would have us believe their donation is based on goodwill and public relations.  Leonce Arsenault, organizer of the event, explained, “We come to Montreal to show people that the sealers are not as barbaric want to believe the animal rights activists who have misinformation about the seal hunt,” (Google translation which is rough, but you get the idea.)

Barbaric?  Surely not.  These charming fellows were out in the Gulf of St. Lawrence slaughtering defenceless weeks-old seal pups as they clung to melting pans of ice, shooting or beating them to death.  No, not barbaric at all.

Photo: ACASC/Bridget Curran

This year some of the worst ice in history was recorded in the Maritime and Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence regions and alarmingly high pup mortality rate ensued.  Nursery ice melted from under the pups before they could swim and they drowned, or pups were stranded on land where they fell prey to predators such as coyotes and large birds.  The sealers from the Maggies were the very few who bothered to go out in their boats and it was definitely a Slaughter of the Survivors.

The Canadian government recently announced a deal had been struck with China to import seal products, but those markets have failed to materialize and IFAW revealed the Canadian government had been making similar announcements for nearly 20 years with no markets ever materializing.  Just more empty promises.  So rather than admit there are no markets for the meat, they turn it into a PR circus event, foisting it on the homeless and patting themselves on the back. 

This year the record low ice and high pup mortality should have been enough for the government to cancel this year’s seal hunt.  Instead, the government hiked the quota to the ridiculously high sum of 400,000 and let sealers go out and slaughter every surviving pup they managed to find.  And for what?  To dump the flesh nobody else wants on the homeless?  Gesture of goodwill?  Slap in the face, more like.

I hope no one gets sick if they eat the seal meat.  Seals are prone to diseases and parasites and humans can become infected with brucellosis and trichinosis after coming into contact with infected seals or seal products.  In Canada, seals are processed as fish, not mammals, so the seal carcasses are not screened for diseases found in mammals.  When I made inquiries about the food safety protocols for planned shipments of seal meat to Asia, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed the seal meat was “being handled entirely by the fish program.  A licence from DFO to harvest the seals is required and seal meat for export to China would have to be processed through a federally registered fish plant.”  When I asked if that meant  the veterinary oversight and meat hygiene protocols mandated under the federal ‘Meat Inspection Act’ are not being applied to the processing of seal meat, I never heard back from them.  I wonder why…

Scary, no?  But as I said, I guess the sealers’ reasoning is these people are homeless and hungry so they’ll take what they can get.  What an insult.  Here’s an idea:  if the sealers are so poverty-stricken that they must beat to death baby seals to earn a living to feed their families, why aren’t they feeding the seal meat to their children?  Point to ponder…

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.