A NEWFOUNDLAND STUDENT QUESTIONS HARPSEALS.ORG ABOUT THE SEAL HUNT
Harpseals.org received an email from a geography student from Newfoundland, where 90% of the seal killing occurs every year. Samantha E. had some good questions. We felt they might be representative of others in Newfoundland... so we referred her to two of the most knowledgeable people we could think of when it comes to understanding the Canadian seal hunt: Paul Watson and Rebecca Aldworth.
Paul Watson background intro: I am the Founder and current Executive Director of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. I am also currently a national director of the Sierra Club in the USA. I was a co-founder of the Greenpeace Foundation and I was the person who initiated and led the first Greenpeace campaigns to protect seals in 1976 and 1977. I am also the author of Seal Wars published in 2002 by Key Porter. I am also an eighth generation Maritimer raised in a fishing village in New Brunswick.
|Rebecca Aldworth background intro: My name is Rebecca Aldworth, and I am the Director of Canadian Wildlife Issues for The Humane Society of the United States. I am originally from Newfoundland too, and I've campaigned to end the commercial seal hunt for several years. For the past six, I have observed the seal hunt at close range.
Friday, February 11th, 2005. Original email intro from Samantha: "I am a geography student at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada
who was asked to write a paper about the seal hunt. I was wondering if you you
could answer a few questions for me that would help me greatly. I have a due date
of the 24th of February so if you could reply to me before then, it would be a
great help. If you could give me a little information about yourself (such as
name, age, location and job title) that would be helpful as well."
Q and A with Paul Watson and Rebecca Aldworth:
1) Seals eat fish as a main source of food, so do you
think the hunting of seals would affect the number of fish found in the ocean
by a great amount?
Only 3% of a harp's seals diet is made up from Cod. There
is a very complex food chain in the ocean and this diversity and interdependence
has worked very well throughout time. The cod was not destroyed by the harp seals.
The species was depleted by human fisheries.
At the time of Jacques Cartier, there was no shortage of fish and there were ten
times as many seals. The fact is that the largest predator of cod aside from people
are other species of fish, the very fish that harp seals prey upon. When you lower
harp seal populations you increase predatory fish populations thereby contributing
to a further decline in the cod. Rather than more seals less cod, it is more seals
= more cod and less seals = less cod.
Whitecoat harp seal (c) IFAW
In fact, many scientists believe culling seals may further impede recovery of fish
stocks by removing even more biomass from the ocean. Visit www.fisherycrisis.com to find out more about this theory. We do know that harp seals (the target of
the commercial seal hunt) are opportunistic feeders.
That means they eat a little bit of a lot of different species.
Commercially fished cod accounts for about 3 percent of their diets, but they
also consume many significant predators of cod. To learn more about this, you
can read a presentation that was given to the House of Commons Standing Committee
on Fisheries and Oceans by Dr. David Lavigne on the topic (web page archived here).
You should also have a quick look at this simplified depiction of the food web
of the northwest Atlantic (Click here to download and see p. 9) - as you can see, determining what the impact of a seal cull on any one fish population
would be next to impossible.
And even the Department of Fisheries and Oceans agrees: "Seals eat cod, but seals
also eat other fish that prey on cod. There are several factors contributing to
the lack of recovery of Atlantic cod stocks such as fishing effort, the poor physical
condition of the fish, poor growth, unfavourable ocean conditions and low stock
productivity at current levels.It is widely accepted in the scientific community
that there are many uncertainties in the estimates of the amount of fish consumed
by seals. Seals and cod exist in a complex ecosystem, which mitigates against
easy analysis or simple solutions to problems such as the lack of recovery of
Would it make an impact on the fishery if we didn't hunt them? Would the fish stocks grow or remain stable?
The seal populations would of course grow and that would be
a good thing. As with all species within a healthy eco-system, the population
would stabilize naturally.
I think this question is addressed in my
answer above. But in short, I believe it would make an impact - fish stocks would
be more likely to recover if we didn't hunt seals.
3) Fisherman here in Newfoundland turned to the
seal hunt when the fishery was closed down. So if they closed the seal industry
as well, what would happen to the jobs then?
Raggedy jacket harp seal
The fishermen of Newfoundland survived just fine with traditional
methods of fishing. It was the introduction of heavy gear technology that has
destroyed the fishing communities of Newfoundland. The government of Canada mismanaged
the fisheries and the corporations were greedy. Instead of targeting and scapegoating
the seals, the fishermen should have targeted those responsible - the governments,
the corporations and the foreign offshore operations.
The sad fact is that the cod fishery will not make a come back in our lifetimes.
The fishing sector in the Maritimes has become a glorified welfare system. The
Maritimes are now the most heavily subsidized economic region in the world. We
would be better off and we would actually save more money to pay the fishermen
not to fish and seal. As for jobs. There has never been a guarantee of jobs in
a world of diminishing resources. Newfoundland is the victim of its own actions
in violating the three basic laws of ecology - The law of diversity, the law of
interdependence and the law of finite resources.
In fact, Newfoundland's fishery makes, on average, 150 million
dollars more annually than it did prior to the cod collapse. Contrary to public
perception, Newfoundland's fishing industry has never been wealthier in history.
This is because of the rapid expansion of the snow crab and other shellfish industries.
Today, snow crabs account for half the landed value of Newfoundland's fishery.
The seal hunt, in comparison, is only 2 percent.
Even cod, thought to be close to extinction, continues to amount to 8 percent
of the landed value of the fishery - four times the value of the seal hunt. Sealing
is an off-season activity conducted by fishermen from Canada's east coast. Though
more than 90 percent of sealers are from Newfoundland, the Newfoundland government
itself estimates there are only about 4000 active sealers in any given year (the
Canadian Sealers Association estimated only 2500). That means out of a population
of more than half a million people, less than one percent of Newfoundlanders participate
in the sealing industry. Individual fishermen who do participate in the hunt make
on average only a small fraction of their incomes from sealing.
Media reports and government data indicate sealing revenues contribute only about
5 percent of their incomes, while 95 percent is from other commercial fisheries.
In other words, the seal hunt is an economically marginal activity that could
be replaced by the federal government with very little effort should it choose
to do so.
4) What is your opinion on the aboriginals use
of seals? Is it wrong for them to kill seals and use all parts for their own personal
needs? What about when they decide to make a profit from these seals?
There is no aboriginal sealing in Newfoundland. There is in
Labrador of course. Aboriginal sealing has never been a major concern. There is
of course aboriginal sealing and there is aboriginal sealing. If it is done for
subsistence necessity that is one thing but much of it is done to provide pelts
for the fur industry. In opposing the fur industry, groups do of course oppose
aboriginal sealing. But the fact remains that the fur industry has driven numerous
species to extinction, extirpation and depletion. When aboriginal communities
ally themselves with the fur industry they place themselves in a position of opposition
Less than 1 percent of the harp seals killed
last year were taken by aboriginal people. Canada's commercial seal slaughter
is not an indigenous hunt, though the industry strategically attempts to hide
it behind a veil of native rights. In reality, none of the groups opposing the
commercial seal hunt take issue with native subsistence hunting. We are trying
to end an industrial scale slaughter of seal pups for their fur that is conducted
by non-native people from Canada's east coast.
Is boycotting all Canadian seafood a valid way to fight
this argument? What about the fisherman and fish plant worker's losing their job's
for having no involvement in the seal hunt simply because of the boycott? Is this
Mother harp seal and pup
Is it fair for grown men to bash newborn animals over the
head with a club? Is it fair for sealers to slaughter pups before the eyes of
their mothers? Is it fair for humanity to disrupt the ecological harmony in the
oceans? In fact is anything that humans do to the Earth, to other species and
to each other - fair?
The fact is that the Canadian government refuses to communicate with seal hunt
opponents, refuses to make concessions and arrogantly ups the quota and Ministers
like John Efford brag about finding a final solution and call for extermination.
Is that fair?
When all avenues of communication are cut off, the only means of communication
is confrontation, controversy and conflict. Government and Industry understand
money i.e. profit and loss. Therefore the only logical course of action is economic
pressure. A boycott of seafood is a legitimate tactics designed to achieve a reduction
or an elimination of seal killing. I think it is 100% fair.
The boycott of Canadian seafood is a tactic that we take very
seriously. We are well aware of the economic impact of such a campaign on the
fishing community in Canada. But after 35 years of unsuccessful negotiation with
the Canadian government, it has become clear we need to change the political equation
surrounding this issue. At a recent meeting with Canada's Department of Fisheries
and Oceans, they told us the only way this hunt would ever be ended is if the
fishing industry itself demands it.
In other words, despite the fact that the majority of Canadians, including many
Newfoundlanders, oppose this hunt, Canada's fishermen are the only ones with the
power to end it. We hope Canada's fishing industry will work with us to demand
an end to this pointless hunt, and end this boycott before we all pay the price.
6) Is there a way that both sides can come to
a compromise on this argument? If so, how?
The governments of Canada and Newfoundland have never shown
a willingness to compromise. The only alternative for seal defenders is a no compromise
economic campaign to force the closure of this obscene and cruel annual slaughter.
I would not have compromised with the Nazi over the fate of the Jews in the Warsaw
Ghetto and I do not believe in compromising with the thugs who kill these seals.
industry and Canadian government can agree to respect the views of the majority
of Canadians and the global public. They can put this cruel, outdated hunt back
into the history books where it belongs. The seals, the sealers, the fishing industry,
Newfoundland and Canada will all benefit.
7) Do you think the quota should be increased or decreased?
I think the quota should be eliminated and that the seal hunt
be ended permanently.
Canada should follow the good example of the United States and
prohibit the commercial hunting of all marine mammals. We should therefore have
a zero quota, except possibly for personal use (subsistence). On a personal note,
having grown up around the bay, and having eaten seal meat as a child, I would
say there would be a pretty low subsistence hunt if one were allowed...?
Do you think there is there a humane way to kill seals?
Harp seal pup looks at sealer
The sad truth is, this commercial slaughter is inherently inhumane.
Sealers are paid per seal they kill, so they slaughter as many of them as possible,
as quickly as possible. In each of the past two years, the entire larger vessel
quota for the front (northeast of Newfoundland) was taken in under two days. I
have watched for six years as sealers have dragged conscious seal across the ice
with boat hooks, skinned seals alive, shot seals and left them to suffer and far
worse. Last spring, I was forced to stand helplessly by as a seal that had been
clubbed suffocated in her own blood for more than an hour. Sealers refused to
finish her off. The level of cruelty I witness each year at this hunt is something
that no thinking, compassionate person could ever agree with.
I was taught in Newfoundland to speak up when I saw something wrong. When you
are from the east coast, this is not an easy issue to talk about. But having seen
it for myself, I can't do anything but try to stop this hunt. Like most Newfoundlanders,
you've probably never seen the slaughter - it happens far offshore, away from
the eyes of a public that would be horrified by it. Believe me, if the seal hunt
happened in the streets of St. John's, it would have been shut down the day it
9) Do you happen to know the price of seal pelts
from 1990 to present day and what the quotas were? if not, can you direct me as
to where i could find them?
The government of Canada DFO has these figures. I am about
as interested in the price of seal pelts as I would be about the price of human
skins. The price is of no concern to me. My concern is for the cruelty and the
killing inflicted upon these defenseless creatures by the ignorant and the arrogant.
Sealer with dead seal pup (c) IFAW
Sealskin prices are a rough guess at best.
Export data is often incorrect and the numbers don't seem to match the media reports
on prices. And conversations with individual sealers about the prices they receive
don't match either. But in general, prices were very low in the 1990s (roughly
$13), and have subsequently increased (to a high RA> of $68 for a perfect skin
It is important to note that even in the record high pelt price year - 2002 -
the entire value of the hunt (including landed value, processing, etc) was still
less than one percent of Newfoundland's economy. You should also be aware that
seal product markets fluctuate wildly, and are dependent upon the whims of the
fashion community. So while prices for sealskin have been high over the past three
years; as recently as 2000, processing companies stopped buying halfway through
the season because of lack of markets - sealers were forced to dump their skins
in the ocean.
Prices for seal products are also dependent upon availability of markets. Right
now, the Belgian and Italian governments are taking steps to ban the trade in
sealskins, and many other European countries may soon follow. The future for sealskin
sales is dim, and it would be wise for the government to invest in other industries
that offer reliable sources of income. If you have any other information or facts
that you feel are of importance and would be helpful to me, feel free to ask those
Just that contrary to what the Canadian government says, this is still very much
a hunt for baby seals. The majority of the seals killed over the past five years
have been under one month of age - 95 percent have been under three months of
age. At the time of slaughter, these pups have been newly separated from their
mothers. Many have not taken their first swim or eaten their first solid meal
when they are killed. They are perfect targets - defenseless and without escape.
In 2001, an independent team of international veterinarians - including experts
in seal biology and veterinary neurology and a past chair of the animal welfare
committee of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association - studied the hunt. Their
report concluded that in 42 percent of the seals they studied, there was not enough
evidence of cranial injury to even guarantee unconsciousness at the time of skinning.
And also that governments around the world are taking action to end the hunt.
A large number of US Senators have just cosponsored a resolution asking Canada
to end the seal hunt. A similar statement was made in the UK Parliament, and has
been signed by more than 130 Members of Parliament. Their actions are supported
by the majority of Canadians, Americans and Europeans who want this hunt ended
READ MORE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT THE SEAL HUNT HERE