CANADIAN HARP SEAL SLAUGHTER
by Captain Paul Watson
On February 3rd, 2003, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced a kill quota of 350,000 harp seals each year for the next three years.
Last year the quota was 275,000. The sealers slaughtered over 310,000. There were no legal consequences for the quota overkill. Instead the Canadian government has rewarded the kill quota violations with an incredible increase of 75,000 seals.
There is also no scientific justification for the quota. The seal counting techniques amount to little more than guesswork The number of harp seals range from a low of 2.5 million to a high of 6 million depending on which side of the issue the report originates with.
The quota appears to be set each year by the number of seals taken the year before, in other words, an estimate of how many it is possible to kill. The primary demand for the seal pelts is in Denmark and Eastern Europe, and this market has become glutted due to excessive kills over the last few years, so much so that pelt prices are falling, and this means more government subsidies to prop up the sealers. Canada is also spending tax dollars to lobby the United States to revoke the Marine Mammal Protection Act to open markets there.
This lust to kill the seals is reflected in the following statement made by former Newfoundland Fisheries Minister John Efford to the Newfoundland Legislature:
“Mr. Speaker, I would like to see the six million, or whatever number is out there, killed or sold, or destroyed or burned. I do not care what happens to them. The fact is that the markets are not there to sell more seals. What they (the fishermen) wanted was to have the right to go out and kill the seals. They have that right, and the more they kill the better I will love it.”
There are facts about this slaughter that are indisputable:
° The Canadian Harp seal hunt is the largest single mass slaughter of a mammalian wildlife species anywhere in the world.
° It is grossly inhumane. Credible witnesses, including myself, have seen seals skinned alive and tortured. These incidents have been documented and sealers themselves have bragged and written about how much fun it is to torture a seal.
° It is an incredibly wasteful hunt. Canadian author and naturalist, Farley Mowat, estimates that for every seal landed, another is shot and lost under the ice, not to be included in the quota.
Canada retaliates by saying that the hunt is well-managed and humane. The problem with this statement is that it is difficult to verify by independent witnesses because it is a crime in Canada to approach within a half a nautical mile of a seal hunt to photograph, film, or even witness a kill without permission of the Canadian government. We are expected to take the word of the sealers and the government that the hunt is humane although most independent observers, who have risked and suffered arrest attest otherwise.
The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans insists that the seals must die so that cod populations can increase and their position is that the harp seal is a major predator of the cod. Yet, there is little scientific justification for this position.
On the contrary, studies and analysis of stomach contents of harp seals indicate that cod is a very small part of a harp seals diet. The largest predators of young cod are in fact other fish species, the same species that serve as the primary prey of the harp seals. In other words, the reduction of harp seal populations is resulting in the increase of fish that prey on cod, and this of course translates into less cod.
This is the same Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans responsible for the mismanagement of the cod fishery in the first place. In fact the only thing DFO can be relied upon to do - is to make a bureaucratic mess and economic disaster of every fishery it has attempted to manage. Why should we expect them to manage the seals any better?
When the first European explorers landed on the East coast of Canada there was no shortage of cod, and there were an estimated 30 million seals. Now, with cod populations at less than 1% of pre-Columbian levels, the seal has become the scapegoat for the excesses of the Canadian and foreign drag trawler fleets that plundered the Grand Banks for decades, and left very little behind.
Over one million harp seals are condemned to be cruelly slaughtered over the next three years.
As a Canadian, I am ashamed. As a conservationist, I am appalled. As a human being, I am angered by Canada’s butchery.
This bureaucratic ordered destruction of the seals has no place in the 21st Century.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO STOP THE KILLING:
There are several ways to get involved in helping stop or limit this barbaric annual slaughter of the Harp seals. Send letters to relevent politicians and newspapers, take part in petitions, or volunteer with an organization making a difference. See our special HELP section for ideas and suggestions.
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