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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

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 AldworthRebecca 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."

The 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?

Paul Watson:

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.

Rebecca Aldworth:
Whitecoat harp seal pup
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 cod stocks."

2) Would it make an impact on the fishery if we didn't hunt them? Would the fish stocks grow or remain stable?

Paul Watson:

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.

Rebecca Aldworth:

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?

Paul Watson:
Raggedy jacket harp seal pup
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.

Rebecca Aldworth:

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?

Paul Watson:

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 to us.

Rebecca Aldworth:

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.

5) 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 fair?

Paul Watson:
Mother harp seal and pup
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.

Rebecca Aldworth:

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?

Paul Watson:

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?

Paul Watson:

I think the quota should be eliminated and that the seal hunt be ended permanently.

Rebecca Aldworth:

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...?

8) Do you think there is there a humane way to kill seals?

Paul Watson:

No

Rebecca Aldworth:
Seal looks at sealer
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 started.

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?

Paul Watson:

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.

Rebecca Aldworth:
Sealer with dead seal pup
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 in 2002). 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 as well. 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 for good.

READ MORE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT THE SEAL HUNT HERE

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