An essay by Captain PAUL WATSON
Written in 2003
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.
A Brief History of the Opposition to the Seal Hunt
Although many individuals have been involved in varying degrees of opposition to the slaughter over the years, there have been a few key players that have stood out from the rest when it comes to saving seals' lives over the years. Between them, they share a track record of nearly 30 years of anti-sealing activism.
Led by the courageous Paul Watson, (who left Greenpeace and founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society), it was Greenpeace that is so famous for its early opposition efforts and public awareness campaigns of the late 70's.
Since these early efforts, Greenpeace has not been actively involved in opposing the seal hunt; however, in the spring of 2005 , Greenpeace produced a report on the mismanagement of the seal population by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), entitled, "The Canadian Seal Hunt: No Management and No Plan."
2) International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
Formed by Brian Davies, the IFAW was at the forefront of the seal hunt opposition effort for over 30 years.
This organization has been involved in producing scientific reports on the seals and documenting the seal slaughter over the years. In the 1980's, IFAW led the effort at boycotting Canadian seafood in the UK and was involved with the initiative to ban the importation of whitecoat pelts in Europe.
3) Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Employing a host of different strategies against the killing, the ever-creative animal activist and master of media, Capt. Paul Watson, has been fighting to save the seals for over 30 years.
One of the founding members of Greenpeace, Paul Watson has led, organized, designed and/ or participated in over 10 harp seal saving campaigns over the years, including the 2005 ship campaign to the seal "hunt" in which Sea Shepherd crew were attacked by sealers. Hated by the sealers and loved by seals and compassionate human beings worldwide, Paul Watson makes a difference with creative, direct action, non-violent, and effective campaigns.
These days, Sea Shepherd is involved in voyages to save the seals, whales, and other marine animals. This organization is also the world's only enforcer of the lame IWC laws on the high seas...
'Free Trade' and Seal Wars
How NAFTA and the WTO May Jeopardize Successes in Banning Imports of Seal Products
What is the WTO and why is it a threat to seals and other animals around the world?
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) oversees the global trade in goods and services. It's mission is to serve the private sector rather than the public: 'Although negotiated and signed by governments, the goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters and importers conduct their business.' The private-sector, unelected trade representatives meet in secret and make decisions that are absolute and binding for all 150 member nations. Animal and environmental protections are subordinated to commercial interests by the WTO. For a brief list of the damage done by the WTO to American environmental and animal protection initiatives visit this Sierra Club web page.
The Canadian government is challenging seal import bans around the world, including the 1972 ban on imports of all marine mammal products in the U.S. (Marine Mammal Protection Act), within the framework of NAFTA and the WTO.
How the WTO and NAFTA Work from the Animal Welfare Institute
Under the rules of the WTO and the NAFTA, member states cannot control the traffic of any commodity based solely on the way it is created—what is referred to as “process and production methods.” Essentially, nations should not discriminate against “like products.”
The most famous (perhaps infamous) case concerning animals is related to canned tuna fish. In an effort to protect dramatically declining populations of dolphins, the United States prohibited importation of tuna that was caught using nets that are cruelly set on dolphins. A number of countries in Latin America objected to this import ban. They argued that a can of tuna is a can of tuna, regardless of the “process” by which the tuna was obtained. In the world of the GATT, the NAFTA, and the WTO, it doesn’t matter that one can contains tuna caught by harassing and killing dolphins, while another involved no harm to dolphins. The final product—the canned tuna—is the same.
The tuna-dolphin dispute, though the defining case of the impact of free trade agreements on animals is not the only example. The European Union has been undermined in its efforts to prohibit the import of furs from animals who were caught using the barbaric steel jaw leghold trap. [A fur is a fur regardless of how the animal was treated.] The US had to undergo years of international litigation to defend its policies regarding the importation of shrimp from countries whose shrimp trawlers do not employ Turtle Excluder Devices, which allow highly endangered sea turtles to escape the shrimp nets that would otherwise drown the turtles. [Shrimp is shrimp regardless of the fishing method and its impact on other species.] Meanwhile, the European Union is fighting to maintain its wise ban on importation of beef from cows injected with growth hormones, which are used in American animal factories to increase beef and dairy production. [Meat is meat whether potentially tainted or not by use of these hormones.]
In addition to the “like product” issue, these trade agreements promote identical “national treatment.” Under these pacts, it is unacceptable to treat the products of one country different than those of another country. So, if one country engages in a practice that is harmful to animals, nations cannot prohibit the import of products from that country while allowing similar products from other countries that do not engage in the destructive activity.
Notably, the WTO incorporates language from the GATT that allows for some exemptions from the trade rules under these agreements. National laws may contravene the WTO, for instance, if they are “necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health,” or if they relate “to the conservation of exhaustible natural resources….” In order for either of these exemptions to apply, however, the measure in question must not be “applied in a manner which would constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries where the same conditions prevail, or a disguised restriction on international trade.”
From Public Citizen :
NAFTA contained 900 pages of one-size-fits-all rules to which each nation was required to conform all of its domestic laws - regardless of whether voters and their democratically-elected representatives had previously rejected the very same policies in Congress, state legislatures or city councils.
NAFTA requires limits on the safety and inspection of meat sold in our grocery stores; new patent rules that raised medicine prices; constraints on your local government’s ability to zone against sprawl or toxic industries; and elimination of preferences for spending your tax dollars on U.S.-made products or locally-grown food. In fact, calling NAFTA a “trade” agreement is misleading, NAFTA is really an investment agreement. Its core provisions grant foreign investors a remarkable set of new rights and privileges that promote relocation abroad of factories and jobs and the privatization and deregulation of essential services, such as water, energy and health care.
Read about the dolphin-tuna issue brought before NAFTA.