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Editorials and Op-Ed's on the Seal Hunt in 2007


Neither Here nor There: Yes and no

Mon., March 19, 2006

Peter Pickersgill
The Beacon, Gander, Newfoundland

On the front page of an independent weekly newspaper, there is an article about the trouble animal rights activists cause seal hunters every year.

The story suggests that one way sealers can undercut the criticism of activists is to make use of more than the tiny percentage of meat from the seals harvested. That way the protesters can’t claim these poor creatures are being slaughtered just so rich women can dress up in fur coats. On page two of a daily newspaper, there is a half-page article about a group on the Eastport Peninsula voicing concern about a Department of Natural Resources plan OK’d by the environmental assessment process. People who live on the peninsula are alarmed to learn this plan allows clear-cut logging of large areas of old-growth forest adjacent to the communities where they live.

These villages, unlike so many small places, are actually growing a little bit, because tourists have discovered the area is a paradise for boating and hiking. The cutting will be done by large forest companies, creating no local jobs and ensuring the first baby steps of tourist development and the jobs that come with them, will be stopped in their tracks. Who wants to hike in a clear-cut? On the front page of another weekly: Abitibi Consolidated’s annual cheque in lieu of taxes to the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor, normally $800,000, comes in $300,000 short. The mayor plans to ask why, soon. A radio show devoted to the fishery, has a clip of the fisheries minister stating he has received from Fishery Products International a letter announcing there are just two companies making offers to buy the Newfoundland assets of FPI that the board of directors deems satisfactory. Days later, the board unilaterally announces they have chosen one of the two.

The minister puffs up his chest and lays down the law: it is the government of Newfoundland and Labrador and no one else who will decide which of the two is better. Which of the two? Why only two? Forget that the FPI Act permits the government a vast range of options. Forget that FPI, strictly against the FPI Act, will have dismantled a company created with taxpayers’ money and made off with, by far, the most profitable part, the marketing arm.

A week or so later, the government announces that they have chosen a buyer for FPI. It’s the other one, the one FPI doesn’t want. I guess we showed them who’s in charge. Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Almost everyone who knows the history of the fishery knows how the Water Street merchants had total and utter control of both the resource and the lives of the people around the bays and on the islands who caught and dried the fish and brought them to the capital.

The merchants set the price of the fish, inspected for quality and then exchanged the fish for the staples that would see the fisher families through to the next season when the exercise would be repeated all over again.

No cash changed hands.

The fishing schooners sailed home, those on board a little more in debt each year. Today, almost everyone bemoans what a cruel system it was that exploited outport people so mercilessly and worked them to an early grave. We wonder how fishers could have allowed themselves to be served so harshly. Thank goodness things are better today. Are they? It’s true that back then our people were forced to sell whatever amounts of our resources they could harvest to strangers who set the terms and established giveaway prices, take it or leave it. It’s also true everything was done by hand, so less of the resource was used, the sea was overflowing with fish and everyone had work. There were fewer roads, so fewer people had automobiles. There were none of the things we regard as indispensable today: pickups, quads, snowmobiles, washers, driers, dishwashers, televisions and cellphones.

Back then, people had nothing and nothing to spend it on. Today, we have much higher expectations of what we feel we need and our labour is not providing it for us. New ways of harvesting are depleting the resources from which our living must come in the future. We are still giving those resources away to strangers at prices they set. The difference is today the exercise no longer provides adequate employment. Back then, people created everything they needed themselves: boats, wharves, gear, houses furniture. They farmed and raised animals for food. People were self-reliant and ingenious. Many people still are today. But that spirit of self-reliance has to take another step. The old people’s self-reliance was based on judgment and logic, the judgment that once upon a time taught them the proper curve for the stem of a trap skiff or logically showed the best site for a house to withstand the weather.

It was a matter of saying yes to some ways of doing things and no to others. It still is.But today we need to apply it to different matters. Yes to some things and no to others. No to giveaways of our resources. Yes to taking charge of the way our resources are harvested and brought to market. No to clear-cutting of trees that surround our communities providing no jobs, stealing our firewood and despoiling the landscape that is starting to attract tourist dollars. Yes to establishing a means where regulations on harvesting do not appear magically from on high to control our lives, but are the result of genuine communication between harvesters and rule-makers. No to allowing fish companies created with our cash and controlled by our laws to set the terms and price of their own sale and selective dismantlement. No to Water Street merchants on steroids. Yes to a greener way of harvesting. No to granting resource companies concessions without iron-clad agreements that bind them to behave, or they will face penalties more severe than standing in the corner. Yes to refining what we harvest to a retail-ready state by the time it leaves the site of the harvest. No to shipping unprocessed raw material. Yes to research at our tax-funded institutions into new ways of processing, new products and the creation of new markets. No to being victims. Yes to taking control of our future.



Seals and sealers alike left out on thin ice
Inhumane hunt allowed to continue despite lack of enough seal pups to fill the government quota

By Paul Glendenning
The Hamilton Spectator(Apr 20, 2007) Lacking the media coverage of last year's pleas by Paul McCartney, the fight over Canada's annual seal hunt continues again this year. Despite less ice and higher seal pup mortality, the government remains convinced that killing seal pups is a viable industry.

Scientific estimates have revealed that over 90 per cent of pups born this year in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence may drown due to melting ice. Newborn seal pups cannot swim.

Trapped Sealing Boat
Aaron Beswick, the Canadian Press
The crews of several sealing ships were forced to leave their vessels after becoming trapped by pressing ice this month.

The federal department of fisheries and oceans (DFO) has allotted a quota of 270,000 seal pups for 2007. This number is only slightly lower than last year and was the only consideration given by the DFO to the early ice melt, likely due to global warming.

Initial reports from the first stages of the hunt confirm the rarity of surviving pups, as the 890 killed were thousands less than anticipated. This lower number was not encouraging for either sealer or seal defender, as quotas are not reached and yet no seal pups were saved.

What is even more disturbing is that 19,000 of the pups allotted to be killed for this year's quota will do so to "make up" for quota amounts "missed" from last year. Unlike products or stock in other industries, seal pups do not remain from prior years waiting to be killed at a later date. Instead their numbers fluctuate and for the past several years dangerously so, as changes in climate have rendered their traditional birthing grounds unstable and prone to premature melting.

The risk of pups drowning remains during the hunt with bewildered weeks-old seals falling into the sea when pursued by the fishermen participating in the hunt. Such victims are not counted in what is, according to at least one DFO official, a self-regulated hunt based completely on numbers given to officials by the fishermen themselves.

These off-season fishermen, living in ever-shrinking communities, are often held up as the reason the hunt needs to continue.

On a new government website designed to show the economic importance of the hunt, there is a profile of a sealing community called Little Bay Islands.

The profile reveals that half the populations is over 50 years old, 58 per cent of workers have less than a high school education and the properties they own have minimal resale market value with homes being assessed as little as $12,891.

Little Bay Islands's personal income per capita is also low, just over $10,000 in 1992 rising to about $18,000 in 2004.

Instead of defending the hunt however, the profile reveals a severe case of government neglect.

At best, the seal hunt tops up an already meagre subsistence without giving any hope for the future. As the communities continue to age, sealing on thinning ice becomes an evermore dangerous hazard.

Instead of giving viable alternatives and opportunities, the government clings to power by turning the frustrations of the fishermen against seals and any who would see the seal hunt end.

This has caused nothing but conflict and has Canadian fishermen pursuing defenceless pups that are shot, clubbed, hooked and sometimes clubbed again.

The unenforced regulations regarding "humane killing" are regularly ignored, causing great pain and suffering to the animals. Proof of this was captured on film again this year by the Humane Society of the United States.

The question then is, why does the hunt continue?

One major reason appears to be due to the Canadian government's other economic interests in Atlantic Canada.

Canada's maritime resources are being sold out to fisheries from other countries. In return for a fee, foreign fisheries are permitted to trawl the ocean floor in Canadian waters, not only scraping away Canadian fish but the natural ecosystem that provides for all sea life. To evade responsibility for this damaging and costly activity, the government turns the fishermen's frustrations and hopes onto the shooting, hooking and bashing of baby seals.

So while the government benefits financially, Canadian seals and sealers alike are left out on thin ice.

Canada's seals are a valued part of Canada and should be respected for their own sake and not used as pawns in political game-playing. At the same time, residents of Atlantic Canada need to be respected and their communities properly helped in order to not only survive but thrive as an essential part of Canada.

The problems facing seals and sealers will not melt away with the ice and should not be ignored just because they are without a celebrity endorsement.

Canada's maritime provinces deserve better and so do Canada's seals.

Paul Glendenning lives in Hamilton.


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