Seal Hunt 2010 - Sealing and Pelt Trade
Slow Seal Hunt Season: DFO
June 20, 2010
Harbor seals. Photo (c) Dr. A. H. Kopelman for CRESLI
The seal hunt wrapped up this week and although it went longer, many observers thought it was not as busy as last year's hunt. DFO's Resource Management Officer, Larry Yetman, says there were about 110 boats in total taking part in the hunt. Yetman says landings slowed in the past few weeks once the longliners finished and it became a small boat effort. He says it was officially closed on Monday, the 14th. He says the total harp seal take was 67,000 and the buyer lived up to the $21 price for a Number One pelt and the harvesters said they were pleased with that. Yetman says the conditions this year were favorable under the circumstances of a down market. He says the ice conditions were good for the hunt but the weather and wind were somewhat of a problem, although not a major one.
How to kill 220,000 seals on Sable Island: the DFO plan
One method involves clubbing, shooting, incinerators and modified logging vehicles, according to a detailed study of a potential cull.
Posted by Linda Pannozzo on Thu, May 27, 2010 at 1:21 AM
What a grey seal hunt on Sable Island might look like. TheCoast.ca
A massive seal slaughter on Sable Island would involve bringing in mobile crematoriums and modified tree-harvesting equipment, and would cost upwards of $35 million, according to a study commissioned by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The 2009 study, obtained through an Access to Information request, examined the costs and logistics associated with "managing" the grey seal population on the fragile island, a whelping ground for the world's largest grey seal colony.
For years, the fishing industry has been lobbying the DFO for a seal cull on the island, arguing that seals, not humans, are to blame for eating too many cod. Under growing pressure from the fishing lobby, the DFO commissioned the study and asked CBCL Ltd., a Halifax-based engineering firm, to consider two options. One was to explore what it would take to execute a slaughter of 100,000 seals the first year (50,000 pups, 30,000 females and 20,000 males), and 30,000 in each of four subsequent years. The second option involved implementing a contraceptive vaccine program targeting 16,000 female grey seals each year for five years.
According to the study, the execution of either option would take place between December and early February---when the beaches and dunes are covered with nursing mothers and their babies. The study concluded that the logistics, resource requirements and costs of executing the first option would be "substantial," when compared to an immunization program.
The study details what would be required to kill, lift and move tens of thousands of seal carcasses over a 25-day period. Adult seals would be killed with rifles and the pups with either rifle or by clubbing. To achieve the goal of 100,000 dead seals in 25 days, 10 seals would have to be killed every minute. "At this production rate, a tandem dump truck would be filled with seals approximately every 10 minutes...seven hours a day for 25 days," says the study.
Thirty modified tree forwarders with boxes and rubberized grips would be required to load all the carcasses from the "work zones" to one of the 20 or so mobile crematoriums where they would be "thermally treated," meaning incinerated. If the carcasses were not incinerated then the onset of rot and disease would be fast, resulting in biological hazards and health and safety issues for the workers. The study explained that if incineration did not occur before stockpiling and storage, then the carcasses would have to be transported daily off the island---slung from shore by helicopter to a supply vessel---and brought to the "shore base" for disposal. CBCL identified the Mulgrave Marine Terminal on the Strait of Canso as a base, able to accommodate offshore supply vessels, ocean-going tugs and barges, fixed and mobile cranes and regular off-loading capability for the tractor-trailer support the operation would require.
According to the study, 100,000 intact carcasses would weigh roughly 15,000 tonnes and would require 500 trips by tractor trailer from the marine terminal to a disposal facility. The study notes several problems with this scenario, one being that the carcasses would likely freeze inside the containers, making disposal difficult and, secondly, that it's currently not legal to dump 15,000 tonnes of dead seals into a Nova Scotia landfill.
For these reasons incineration on Sable Island is the study's preferred choice. Units called "Air Curtain Burners," designed to burn wood waste with a special mechanism to control smoke, would be used for incinerating the carcasses.
According to a DFO spokesperson, any decision to implement the study's recommendations would be made by the minister, Gail Shea. In January Shea announced a "total allowable catch" of 39,000 grey seals from Sable Island. And, with the value of seal pelts tanking and the European Union slamming its doors on seal products, Shea also visited China to promote the sale of seal meat, pelts and penises.
This is where the picture starts to get murky. Just last week the federal and provincial governments announced that Sable Island will be designated a national park, a decision welcomed by environmentalists because it will raise the level of protection for the island's unique biodiversity and extremely fragile sand dune ecosystems. But this protection does not apply to seals. According to DFO's seal expert Don Bowen, a park designation would not prohibit a seal cull on the island. At a public meeting earlier this year, Bowen said "whether a hunt occurs or not is not a scientific decision, but a political or economic one."
Ottawa Extends Newfoundland Seal Hunt Deadline To May 31
May 12, 2010 6:25 a.m. EST
AHN News Staff
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (AHN) - Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea announced on Tuesday the extension of the seal hunt in Newfoundland and Labrador to May 31.
The Marine Mammal Regulations prescribe a May 15 deadline, but because of the low catch many seal hunters have failed to fully use their 2010 allocation. The rules permit an extension of the closing date depending on the circumstances, which are based on dialogues with local sealers and an assessment of local environmental and biological conditions.
Shea said in a statement, “The seal harvest brings much needed income to thousands of sealers and their families in remote communities every year.” Shea added, “Our government will continue to support these communities and ensure that they can make the best of their opportunities in these difficult economic times.”
So far, seal hunters have caught only about 60,000 seals out of a total quota of 330,000.
Shea’s 15-day extension will surely invite the criticism of environmental and animal rights group such as the People’s Ethical Treatment of Animal and political bodies such as the European Union. The EU, in fact, has banned the entry of seal products into the 27-member bloc, except for small items bought for personal use.
DFO to decide Monday whether to extend seal hunt for few more weeks.
The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
9/05/2010 7:00 PM
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The Department of Fisheries and Oceans will decide Monday whether to extend the seal hunt for a few more weeks or shut it down for the year.
Spokesman Larry Yetman says the hunt, which opened April 8, has struggled this year with weak market demand and only one buyer.
Yetman says that order, for up to 60,000 pelts, has been filled but the department is searching smaller markets to see if there are any takers for meat or other seal products.
He says the market has been the major limiting factor this year since all other conditions were favourable.
The price is up, from about $15 a pelt to $21, and hunting conditions were ideal.
Seal hunt underway with about 18 per cent of quota taken
April 15, 2010
The annual seal hunt off Newfoundland’s northeast coast is underway, with the average number of vessels participating over the past week about 35 each day, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
As of Thursday, about 18 per cent of the Newfoundland quota has been taken.
DFO’s enforcement section is looking into some cases of alleged violation of rules, and have launched investigations.
Canada's seal hunt to close early after low harvest
File picture shows a Harp seal pup on an ice floe in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. A lack of sea ice in one of the warmest Canadian winters on record and a European boycott have ruined what was to be a banner seal hunt off Canada's Atlantic coast this month, according to officials and sealers. (c) AFP
Published: 15/04/2010 at 03:50 PM
AFP News agency
A lack of sea ice in one of the warmest Canadian winters on record and a European boycott have ruined what was to be a banner seal hunt off Canada's Atlantic coast this month, according to officials and sealers.
Canada's Fisheries Minister Gail Shea last month increased by 50,000 the allowable catch of harp seals this season to 330,000, in defiance of a ban on seal products by the European Union.
But most of Canada's 6,000 sealers stayed home, unable to find buyers for their catch or stymied by a lack of ice floes for the first time in 60 years on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, which usually host hordes of seals birthing pups.
"The European boycott was devastating to the industry this year, as was the lack of ice on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence due to an exceptionally warm winter," Jean Richard, Canadian fisheries department conservation chief for the Quebec coastal region, told AFP.
"The hunt, as a result of reduced market demand, has been scaled back substantially," added Larry Yetman, fisheries resource management officer for the Newfoundland and Labrador coastal region.
Fewer than 50 sealing ships launched from Newfoundland ports, down from 500 in past years. Others would have eagerly set out to reap this year's higher pelt prices -- at 21 dollars, nearly double last year's prices.
But there was now only one local buyer, NuTan Furs, which said upfront it would buy less than 15,000 pelts from a dedicated group of sealers this year.
"Every sealer in Newfoundland would have considered going out on the ice for that price, but there aren't any buyers," Yetman said.
He lamented that sealing conditions were otherwise ripe for a bountiful harvest along the Labrador coast: "The ice is close to shore, not heavy, and easily penetrated by sealing vessels."
"Unfortunately, we expect market demand to be satisfied in a couple of days, and then we would talk about closing the hunt," likely after less than 15 percent of the quota has been reached, he said.
To the south, a solitary ship set off with 10 crew onboard last week from the Magdalen Islands, where former Beatle Paul McCartney led a seal hunt protest in 2006, in search of prey for Quebec eateries.
The rest of the island's fleet remained docked, each ship too small to venture far beyond the Saint Lawrence seaway.
Denis Longuepee, president of the Magdalen Islands seal hunters association, said the steel-hulled 65-foot vessel Jean-Mathieu had already returned from Labrador coastal waters after nine days, with 2,200 seal carcasses.
Rejean Vigneau, a sealer and owner of a Magdalen Island butcher shop that specializes in seal meat, said their harvest was disappointing -- half of what he had hoped for.
"Normally, we never go hunting for seal meat," he commented. "We hunt for pelts and also bring back the meat. But there's no market for seal pelts this year."
Except for NuTan, all of Canada's seasonal seal processing companies have been shuttered, forcing the Jean-Mathieu crew to "throw pelts back in the water."
"It's a disaster, really unthinkable," Vigneau said. "It's the first time ever that this has happened."
Longuepee told AFP that there remained "a lot of demand for seal meat" as a delicacy, triple what it was last year and growing, but fisheries officials insist the market for the meat is still relatively small.
To try to boost demand, Canada's Fur Institute is expected to soon launch a seal cookbook originally published by the European Union, ironically three years before EU states voted in 2009 to ban the marketing of seal products from 2010 onwards.
In Ottawa, efforts are now underway to try to open up new markets for seal pelts in Asia while the EU ban -- called for by animal rights groups -- is being challenged at the World Trade Organization.
N.L. seal hunt hit by poor ice, low prices
Last Updated: Thursday, April 8, 2010 | 10:00 AM NT
The annual seal hunt off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador limped to a slow start Thursday because of low pelt prices and unusually poor ice conditions.
Normally at this time of year Twillingate, on Newfoundland's northeast coast, is bustling with activity, but this year many boats are tied to the community's wharves.
Sea ice formation is the poorest scientists have recorded in decades, meaning sealers face a 12 to 18-hour boat trip north to find seals.
Despite this, some sealers say they will make the trip
"Most everybody would go if they had [seal pelt] buyers, but when you got no buyers only a few guys get to go … and we are a few of the privileged ones who get to go," said sealer Frank Brown, a crew member on Trudy B. Buster.
Brown says the Trudy B. Buster's owners have found a buyer for at least 1,000 pelts.
Other sealers haven't had the same success. For the first spring in 27 years, Twillingate resident Tom Bath is not going sealing. Bath said he'd miss the money he usually makes from the hunt.
"[Crew members] usually clear up somewhere around probably $5,000 for a start, for the summer, so it's a good start," said Bath.
This season's quota is slightly over 380,000 seals, an increase of 50,000 from last year, but it's not expected to be fully taken.
Ice cover lacking
Federal Fisheries department officials say sealers are likely to see conditions they've never seen before. Garry Stenson, the head of DFO's marine mammal section, said that south of the Strait of Belle Isle, between Newfoundland and southern Labrador, there's virtually no ice for seals to have their pups on.
That means seals are going further north than usual to whelp. Some have been spotted having pups as far as Makkovik, northern Labrador.
"We have data going back to the 1950s, and we had never seen seals that far north," said Stenson. "I just suppose it just reflects the ice conditions that we've had over the last 60 years," said Stenson.
He said it's the first time scientists ever have seen seals giving birth north of Groswater Bay on Labrador's coast.
Ice conditions haven't been this poor since DFO started keeping records 40 years ago.
Despite Few Hunters, Seal Pups Face Threats
By IAN AUSTEN
Published: April 1, 2010
A harp seal pup lay on the ice in 2008 near Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. (c) Joe Raedle, Getty Images
OTTAWA — The annual hunt for harp seals off the coast of eastern Canada will barely take place this year. But this is not good news for the seals.
An exceptionally mild winter in the usually frigid Gulf of St. Lawrence has combined with several related factors to discourage Canadian hunters from pursuing the seal pups, whose pelts are prized by the fur industry. The grim spectacle of pups being bludgeoned on the ice by hunters has long been cited by animal rights activists seeking to curtail the annual hunt.
The same phenomenon that is behind the decision of most seal hunters to keep their boats in harbors this spring — the warm weather that left the waters off the coast largely ice-free — also threatens the young harp seals. Harp seals make ice their main habitat, and they give birth on ice, partly as protection from predators on land.
In Port au Choix, Newfoundland, and other communities around the gulf, hundreds of desperate harp seals arrived in late winter to give birth on fragments of ice clinging to the shoreline. Then, a few weeks ago, seal pups born elsewhere began floating in on small, shrinking pieces of ice.
“It’s the talk of the island,” said Jeannie Billard, who tracked the seals with binoculars from an inn she owns in Port au Choix. “It’s very unusual. If you see it twice in your life, you’re very lucky.”
The combination of little ice and scattered herds of harp seals has persuaded most hunters around the gulf to stay home.
“We haven’t seen any seals around the shore here anywhere,” said Robert Courtney, the president of the North of Smokey-Inverness South Fishermen’s Association in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. “I think they went to the north, 300 miles from where we are. It’s too far.”
Mr. Courtney thinks that none of the 30 to 40 boats from Cape Breton that usually participate in the seal hunt will this year. The situation is much the same in the neighboring Magdalen Islands of Quebec. Only one boat, whose crew hopes to provide seal meat to restaurants, has set out so far.
Nonetheless, seal pups are dying. Many drowned at birth after slipping or being tossed from small slivers of ice. Others survived, only to be crushed by moving ice or separated from their mothers. Those born on beaches or shore ice have fallen prey to coyotes and even bald eagles. The lack of ice also means that survivors will not have vital spots to rest when they head to sea.
“Mortality is going to be higher than normal,” said Garry Stenson, a biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who is based in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Mike Hammill, a fisheries department biologist from Mont Joli, Quebec, said the last time circumstances were so dire for the seal pups was in 1981. “That year, the entire year class seemed to disappear,” he said.
While scientists are generally reluctant to attribute individual weather events to climate change, many gulf residents view the ice-free spring as a sign of global warming. Environment Canada, the government department that provides weather forecasts, reported that until mid-March the ice was at its lowest in more than four decades of record keeping.
The Canadian government counts 6.9 million harp seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence herd. In a normal year, they would produce about 280,000 pups.
While it is too early to estimate the extent of this year’s losses, government scientists have observed unusual patterns in the seals’ activities this year.
Many female harp seals delayed giving birth for up to two weeks as they searched for ice. A large number of seals traveled about 100 miles beyond the usual northern limit of their range to find ice, although it is unclear how many females produced pups after the long journey.
The recession and a ban by the European Parliament on the sale of furs and other products from commercially harvested seals have lowered the value of seal pelts. Where they once sold for more than $100, they now fetch $8 to $15 each. The government has not formally canceled the seal hunt this year, a decision that animal rights groups have criticized because of concerns over how many pups will die because of the unusual circumstances.
Sheryl Fink, a biologist and senior researcher with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, returned recently to Guelph, Ontario, from the gulf, where she said she had seen dead and dying pups on Newfoundland beaches.
The Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network said it had received about 50 telephone calls recently from people who had found baby seals struggling to survive on shore. Most years, it said, it gets at most one or two such calls.
The response to callers, said Véronik de la Chenelière, a biologist with the group, is always the same: let nature take its course. Harp seals generally do not thrive in captivity, and scientists are concerned that seals brought into captivity and then released will introduce diseases into the gulf that may harm other species, particularly beluga whales.
“In some cases these animals are probably condemned to death,” she said. “When people find this little furry ball on the shore, they tend to react as they would after finding a lost kitten or puppy. But these are wild animals; they have to be left alone.”
Canada's seal hunt off to slow start
March 29, 2010 - 8:04AM
Canada's annual seal hunt was off to a slow start on Sunday, with most fishing boats still moored in their harbours, as missing ice floes in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence kept their prey hundreds of kilometres to the north.
"I know one boat set sail tonight, at around 4am in the morning," Magdalen Island seal hunters' association president Denis Longuepee told AFP.
"In past years, there were 10 to 40 boats weighing anchor," to go seal hunting, he added.
About a dozen hunters are aboard a ship trying to find a small harem of 1,000 seals spotted on Saturday from a plane by Fisheries and Oceans Canada near Blanc-Sablon, in the northeastern corner of Quebec province, according to Radio Canada.
The mild winter this year has hampered the hunt for the Greenland seal. A lack of ice floes in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence has kept some 300,000 seals far to the north, off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, where there is coastal ice.
That's good news for seal hunters in Newfoundland and Labrador, said Longuepee.
Seal hunting brings in 20-30 per cent of the yearly revenue of 400-500 hunter-fishermen in Magdalen Islands. The rest of the year, they fish for lobster and clams.
Seal hunting is highly controversial for its perceived inhumane killing methods. The 27 European Union states in July 2009 adopted a ban on seal products, ruling the goods could not be marketed from 2010.
Around 6,000 Canadians take part in seal hunting each year along the Atlantic coast, and 25 per cent of their sales had come from exporting products to Europe.
Canada and Greenland account for more than 50 per cent of the 900,000 seals slain in the world each year. Other seal-hunting countries include Norway, Namibia, Iceland, Russia and the United States.
© 2010 AFP
Seals expected to drown in iceless waters
Last Updated: Friday, March 26, 2010 | 7:14 AM
Most of the seal pups born in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence this year will drown due to a lack of ice, a government scientists says.
But biologist Mike Hammill of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans told CBC News Thursday there is no cause for concern yet.
Hamill spent a few days earlier this week flying over the Gulf of St. Lawrence, seeing how much ice and how many seals are left. He estimates 70 per cent of seal pups won't make it. Seals need ice for birthing and nursing, but there is so little ice this year Hamill said that won't be possible for many seals.
But Hamill said the impact of one year of bad ice is minimal.
"We predicted the population in 2009 was 6.9 million and after this year probably the population for 2011 will be 6.7 million," he said.
"So really it's not a very big impact at all."
The lack of ice has made sealing virtually impossible in the southern gulf, but DFO has decided the herd can still sustain a hunt off Newfoundland this year.
Protesters have quiet year
The unusual ice conditions have animal rights groups changing their approach as well. The arrival of seal hunt protesters and the media that follow them is a sign of spring on Prince Edward Island, but this year has been quiet.
Sheryl Fink of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said fewer members of her group came to P.E.I. this year and they're leaving Friday, heading north to Newfoundland. "Hopefully it will be a less competitive hunt," she said.
"Hopefully any seals that are being killed, the hunters will be able to take the time to follow the regulations and take the steps that are required to make sure the seals are unconscious before they're being skinned."
Hammill said DFO will continue to monitor the number of seals in Atlantic Canada. The seal hunt quota could be reduced in the future if warmer weather continues, and officials think the lack of ice is taking too much of a toll on the herd.
Worst Ice Year Kills Canadian Seals Before Hunters Can
CHARLOTTETOWN, Prince Edward Island, Canada, March 26, 2010 (ENS) - Thousands of harp seal pups are presumed dead in Canada's Gulf of St. Lawrence and starving pups are being found abandoned on the beaches of Prince Edward Island, victims of the worst ice conditions ever recorded in the region.
Evolved to live its first months on ice, seal pup struggles through slushy water in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. March 22, 2010. (Photo courtesy IFAW)
Environment Canada said March 16 that ice conditions in the Gulf were the lowest in the 41 years it has kept records.
Off Newfoundland, Canada's other seal hunting ground, ice has formed only off the Northern Peninsula when, by now, it has usually extended along the island's northeast coast.
Observers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare report that the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the annual birthing ground of hundreds of thousands of harp seals, is "essentially devoid of both ice and seals."
"The conditions this year are disastrous for seal pups. I've surveyed this region for nine years and have never seen anything like this," said Sheryl Fink, a senior researcher with IFAW.
"There is wide open water instead of the usual ice floes, and rather than the hundreds of thousands of seal pups that we normally encounter, only a handful of baby harp and hooded seals, animals that are normally found on ice, remain on the beaches," she said.
Other observers report that the lack of ice has left seal mothers with few places to bear their young or to feed their pups. Many people have seen the newly born pups stranded on beaches instead of being born out on the ice-covered Gulf where they have entered the world for hundreds of years.
Yet the federal government increased the quota for this year's seal hunt just a few days after federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation March 10 that poor ice conditions could cause the cancellation of this year's Gulf of St. Lawrence seal hunt. It usually begins at the end of March.
On March 15, Shea increased the total allowable catch of harp seals by 50,000, to 330,000 animals. She said the current estimate of the harp seal population is approximately 6.9 million animals, or more than triple what it was in the 1970s.
No ice, no seals in this stretch of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. March 23, 2010. (Photo courtesy IFAW)
The minister's announcement was criticized by animal welfare organizations, conservationists, and sealers, in what Fink calls "a rare moment of agreement."
"Our government recognizes the importance of the sealing industry to the people and the economies of Canadian coastal communities," said Shea. "Ongoing efforts are made to ensure our management decisions include the perspective of our scientists, as well as the input of Canadians in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and the North who work and depend on the industry for their livelihood."
The one year total for the harp seal TAC includes a developmental allocation of 20,000 seals to support three value-added projects proposed by the sealing industry in Atlantic Canada, Shea said.
The Canadian Sealers Association says, "Improved handling and processing of fur and leather have occurred and a significant market breakthrough has occurred in China. Oil is rich in Omega-3 fatty acid and amino acids and the refining of oil is continuing and offers some real possibilities in the health industry."
But extremely high pup mortality is happening again this year. In 2007, 99 percent of harp seal pups born in the Southern Gulf of St Lawrence are thought to have died due to lack of ice.
"It is reckless and irresponsible for the government to allow the hunt to proceed this year, given the high pup mortality that is expected," she said.
"Under a precautionary approach, we should be protecting the few pups that might escape the devastating lack of ice this year," said Fink. "Given the almost complete lack of demand for seal skins, allowing the commercial slaughter of these survivors to proceed is simply adding insult to injury."
Scientists with IFAW are concerned that the cumulative effects of high pup mortality due to the poor ice conditions, and high numbers of pups killed during Canada's commercial seal hunt could be devastating to the species.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.
All washed up: Seal pup one of thousands stranded on Canadian beach due to record ice shortage
Stranded: A starving harp seal pup washed up on the shore of Prince Edward Island in the Gulf Of St Lawrence (c) IFAW 2010
The pup struggles to clamber up on what ice it can find on the beach (C) Reuters 2010
Threat: Tens of thousands of seals are expected to die in the region this year, the International Fund For Animal Welfare IFAW has warned (c) Reuters 2010
Scientists have hailed 2010 as the worst ice year on record with little to no ice forming in the Canadian gulf (c) Reuters 2010
The coast line of Prince Edward Island: A complete lack of ice (c) IFAW 2010
By Mail Foreign Service
Last updated at 4:44 PM on 25th March 2010
Stranded on a beach all alone, this starving harp seal pup faces a bleak and, most likely, short future.
The pup is one of tens of thousands who have washed up on beaches in Canada's Gulf Of St Lawrence during the worst ice conditions ever recorded in the region.
Thousands are presumed dead because the gulf, which is the annual birthing ground of hundreds of thousands of harp seals, is currently lacking both ice and seals.
Many more thousands of seals are expected to die this year, the International Fund For Animal Welfare (IFAW) has warned.
Sheryl Fink, a senior researcher with IFAW, said: 'The conditions this year are disastrous for seal pups. I've surveyed this region for nine years and have never seen anything like this.
'There is wide open water instead of the usual ice floes, and rather than the hundreds of thousands of seal pups that we normally encounter, only a handful of baby harp and hooded seals - animals that are normally found on ice - remain on the beaches.'
This year is expected to yield another especially high harp seal pup mortality rate, following on from 2007 when 99 per cent and 75 per cent of pups are thought to have died in similar circumstances, and 2002's 75 per cent mortality rate.
Scientists have hailed 2010 as the worst ice year on record with little to no ice forming in the Southern Gulf.
They are concerned that the cumulative effects of high pup mortality due to the poor ice conditions, and high numbers of pups killed during Canada's commercial seal hunt could be devastating.
Ms Fink added: 'Finding these ice-dependent seal species on land is extremely unusual, and should be considered a warning signal.
'The seal pups we have found on shore are thin and unable to defend themselves or escape from land-based predators. It is highly unlikely that any of these pups will survive long enough for there to be a seal hunt in the southern gulf this year.
Seal hunt: Price, not ice, the problem, says sealer
March 18, 2010
A crew member walks across the ice in front of the icebound ship Labrador Concept in the harbour in St. Anthony, April 11, 2007. The crews of several sealing ships trapped by pressing ice off Newfoundland's northeast coast and southern Labrador were forced to evacuate their vessels. - File photo by Aaron Beswick/The Northern Pen
Ice shouldn't be a major issue for the sealing industry this spring. The price paid for pelts, however, will be.
That's according to Eldred Woodford, president of the Canadian Sealers' Association.
Markets are down and buyers are purchasing fewer seal pelts, he explained Wednesday.
"I spoke to the guy I've sold to for the last 12 years and he says it might be up slightly this year, but don't expect nothing drastic," Woodford said.
Last year, he said sealers got about $14 per pelt. That's a far cry from the $100 or more an animal they received four years ago.
The price in 2009 made many harvesters stay ashore and only a fraction of the annual quota was taken.
Woodford predicts the markets could result in a similar situation this spring.
"We're not going to get the opportunity to harvest the full quota this year, and maybe not next year.
"Hopefully, it will get better, but it doesn't look that good for the next couple of years."
While the pelt price might mean less seals taken, Reg Taylor - whose family sells seal flippers in the St. John's area each spring - isn't predicting a shortage of seal meat this year.
When the animals take to the water once the hunt opens, he says, "We usually end up getting a fair few seals."
As for the lack of ice, Environment Canada said Tuesday conditions in the Gulf were the lowest in the 41 years it has kept records.
Off Newfoundland - the situation that affects the majority of this province's sealers - ice had only formed off the Northern Peninsula when, by now, it's usually extended along the island's northeast coast.
Still, Woodford doesn't foresee a ice being an issue.
"The ice is pretty low right now, but I've been watching the ice charts and there's a nice bit of ice coming down the Labrador coast. So, I don't think it's going to be a problem."
Even if there isn't much ice, Woodford doesn't appear too concerned.
In years where there's been little ice, he pointed out, seals tend to be more plentiful and not as spread out.
"It'll be easier to get (them)," he said.
On Monday, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans increased this year's quota by 50,000 animals, to 388,200 harp, hooded and grey seals.
The increase has been panned by both pro and ant-sealing groups.
Seal hunt may be scaled back: Shea
Last Updated: Thursday, March 18, 2010 | 6:57 AM AT
A seal hunt will take place this year, but it may be scaled back because of poor ice conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off Newfoundland, says federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea.
Speaking after question period Wednesday, Shea told CBC News that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the seal harvesters will decide on the season, which usually starts around the end of March.
"Where the seal hunt will take place will be determined by the ice, of course, and when it will take place as well. That will be done in consultation with the sealers," said Shea. "But, yes, the ice conditions are not favourable this year, so there will probably be a limited hunt. But that's yet to be seen, because ice conditions could change. Ice moves."
One protest group, the Humane Society of the United States is calling for the hunt to be cancelled because of scant ice. The group believes mothers have aborted their pups at sea because there's no ice to give birth on.
There are plenty of seals along the east coast, said Shea.
Shea announced earlier this week the quota will increase by 50,000 animals, bringing the total permitted harvest for harp, hooded and grey seals to 388,200.
East Coast seal hunt quota increases despite very poor ice conditions
The Canadian Press—Ottawa
March 15, 2010
The federal government has increased the quota for this year’s East Coast seal hunt despite ice conditions that some fishermen say are the worst in years.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has set this year’s total allowable catch for harp, hooded and grey seals at 388,200 — up 50,000 from last year’s total quota.
The higher quota is solely due to an increase of 50,000 harp seals.
The harp seal quota includes an allocation of 20,000 seals to support three projects proposed by the sealing industry that the department says aim to make the fullest possible use of the hunted animals.
Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea says the population of harp seals is about 6.9 million, more than triple what it was in the 1970s.
As in the past, about 70 per cent of the quota is allocated to fishermen working in the waters northeast of Newfoundland and Labrador, while the Gulf of St. Lawrence receives the rest.
Seal pups beached in ice-free Gulf
Pups seen on Quebec shores, as far north as Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | 2:54 PM NT
The Canadian Press
An exceptional lack of sea ice on the Gulf of St. Lawrence this winter has left seal mothers with few places to bear their young or to feed their pups.
The conditions have led to numerous sightings of fuzzy, days-old critters wallowing on beaches, where many will die.
Some of those seals are being born on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula.
"We've got lovely weather here and the shoreline is peppered with seals," retired school teacher Oswald Gould said Wednesday, in Bear Cove, western Newfoundland, near St. Barbe. "You can see the young ones being born. They are pupping. Right in by the seashore."
On the Quebec shores of the gulf, some people have even carted the big-eyed creatures, which weigh between 10 and 20 kilograms depending on the species, back home where they try to nurse them to health, de la Cheneliere said Tuesday.
But she said human interaction can add stress to the situation and diseases can be spread to and from the seals.
Her organization has received five direct reports of young harp or hooded seal pups marooned on Quebec's North Shore, Îles-de-la-Madeleine and the Gaspé Peninsula. They have also heard many second-hand accounts of sightings along the shoreline.
The harp seal pups are known for their big, black eyes and fluffy white coats, while the young hooded seals can be identified by their dark, blue-grey fur and white bellies.
Neither the hooded nor the harp seals found off Quebec's shores are listed as at-risk species, but both can be hunted seasonally in the province with a permit.
De la Cheneliere said a couple of the would-be rescuers have made inquiries on that very subject.
"Some of them have been asking if they could nurse them to life, [but] then when they understood the implications and why it wasn't a good idea, they asked if they could get the coat," she said.
With the unusual shortage of ice on the Gulf this year, de la Cheneliere's group is predicting higher mortality rates for young seals.
Still, not every beached pup perishes on the shore — some find their way back to the water and survive, she said.
A marine mammal specialist for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans recently told The Canadian Press he also expects the death rate for seal pups to rise this year from its average of 15 per cent.
But Mike Hammill doesn't believe the added deaths would have a major impact on the Eastern Canada seal populations, which number about seven million in total.
An Environment Canada ice forecaster recently said the sea-ice levels recorded in the Gulf this winter are about as low as any readings since the 1960s.
Earlier this week, Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said poor ice conditions may cause the cancellation of this year's Gulf of St. Lawrence seal hunt. It usually begins at the end of March.
Poor ice might halt this year's seal hunt
Canwest News Service
March 9, 2010
Fisheries officials will review this week ice data and meet with sealers to determine whether poor ice conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence mean this year's seal hunt in the area will have to be scrapped, a Fisheries spokesperson said Monday.
The annual St. Lawrence seal hunt usually starts in mid-March but the poorest ice conditions in years may cancel the event, said Alain Belle-Isle of the Fisheries Department.
"There is much less ice this year," he said, adding "ultimately it's up to the sealers to determine if they want to go out or not. No decision has been made so far."
Less sea ice could result in higher than usual seal pup mortality, or the seals going elsewhere this year, he said.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
Canada has had its warmest, driest winter on record
CTV.ca News Staff
Date: Sat. Mar. 6 2010 8:18 PM ET
While parts of Asia, Europe and the United States have suffered through unusually cold and snowy winter months, Canada is emerging from its warmest and driest winter in at least six decades, a senior climatologist says.
Environment Canada, which classifies winter as December through February, hasn't yet released its analysis of the past three months. But the agency's senior climatologist, David Phillips, told CTV.ca that average temperatures reached an record high while precipitation levels dropped to a record low.
"Stick a thermometer into Canada, from coast to coast to coast, the average of the entire country has never been warmer and drier than in this winter," Phillips said in a phone interview. "It will go down as really record-breaking."
The agency's weather data goes back 63 years. Its analysis was weighted geographically, meaning it looked at the entire land and water mass of the country and wasn't skewed by densely populated urban centres.
Phillips attributed the freakish weather to a number of factors but singled out El Nino, a climate pattern from the tropical Pacific Ocean that he said encourages more powerful westerly winds.
Strong northerly winds above the Atlantic Ocean also kept frigid arctic air from descending farther south into Canada.
"In the high Arctic, they had absolutely balmy temperatures," Phillips said. "And really how the north goes, so goes Canada."
Although spring is still officially two weeks away, Canadians from coast to coast were being treated to the same type of mild, dry weather on Saturday.
From Iqaluit to Quebec City, temperatures were sitting above daily average highs for this time of year.
And except for St. John's and Winnipeg, the sun was shining from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. Even rainy Vancouver had clear skies.
In Montreal, the mercury was forecast to reach a balmy 10 C Saturday afternoon, more than six degrees above the city's average high for a March day, according to the agency.
The spring-like weather will to continue into next week in many parts of the country, according to Environment Canada's latest forecasts.
Philllips said that while the mild, dry conditions may make many Canadians feel good psychologically, it has already begun to cause problems in some parts of the country.
"There is virtually no ice. This is the lowest ice count in the St. Lawrence and off the coast of Newfoundland that we've ever seen," he said.
That's made Atlantic Canada's annual seal hunt much more difficult than usual, Phillips said. Arctic ice roads have also become difficult or impossible to maintain, which has in turn affected some diamond mines.
"The weather we may be blessing right now may be the weather we're cursing in the summertime because there wasn't enough moisture," Phillips said. "The water levels may be down, there may be drought problems."
"When you get something that's extreme, that's record-breaking, you don't normally hear the end of it until much later," he said.
"Even for climatologists, like myself, we scratch our heads wondering what's happening here."
Pack ice scarce off Eastern Canada
Lack of ice could hurt seal population
Last Updated: Monday, March 1, 2010 | 4:59 PM NT
Stock photo of whitecoat harp seal pup (c) IFAW
A Canadian Coast Guard official said Monday that many parts of the ocean near Newfoundland and Labrador are devoid of pack ice — a condition that hasn't been seen in at least 40 years.
"It's been an unusual year this year, to the point that there is no ice. There have been high temperatures, high winds, and as a result we have very little ice," said Dan Frampton, the Coast Guard's supervisor of ice operations. "By this time of year, pack ice is usually down to the St. John's area."
Frampton said icebreakers have been idle because there's no pack ice in the Strait of Belle Isle between Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador, as well as in the Gulf of St. Lawrence or further north off central Labrador.
"Our data says we haven't seen a year like this since 1969 but when I took a closer look at it, it looks like this year there is actually less ice than 1969," he said." The northeast coast [of Newfoundland] is wide open."
Frampton says pack ice usually forms during January and February. He said even if temperatures drop in March it's unlikely that ice conditions will change significantly this year.
Seals need ice
It could be a problem for harp seals that give birth to pups on the ice. In the Gulf of St. Lawrence their population can swell to a million but with next to no ice this year only 500 seals have been counted so far. Heli-tour operators have already cancelled the season and sealers fear their hunt won't happen.
Researchers say it's more than just a one-year change.
"Over the last decade, the ice hasn't been as heavy as it had been for the previous decade, which suggests a longer-term trend," said Mike Hammill, who studies ice conditions for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Hammill predicts the lack of ice could lead to higher mortality among seal pups. He says the seal population is large enough to survive this, but that may not be the case if ice conditions remain poor for many years.
People living on Quebec's Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence confirm the pack ice they usually see at this time of year hasn't formed near their shores.
"Yes, there's only water around the island. There's no ice at all around the island. There's no ice at all," said veteran mariner Jean-Claude Lapierre. "I'm 69 years old and I never saw that before. I talked to the older people and it's the first time they saw that."
No seal hunt on Hay Island
Fri Feb 26, 8:58 PM
Grey seals (c) Paul Turner, HSI
NOVA.SCOTIA (CBC) - The grey seal hunt on Hay Island, off eastern Cape Breton, will not go ahead this year.
The season on Hay Island opened Feb. 8, but bad weather prevented sealers from setting out.
Now they say couldn't get help from the Nova Scotia government with getting seal products ready for a buyer.
Hay Island is part of the Scaterie Island wilderness area off Cape Breton.
Greg Roach, associate deputy minister of the Fisheries Department, said the government is prepared to help sealers in Cape Breton develop new markets.
But this won't happen in time for the hunt on Hay Island this spring, he said, where the federal Fisheries Department has set a quota of 2,200 animals.
"The objective is to expand into Asia, to look at markets for all the grey seal products like fur, maybe some leather, other pelt products and meat products," Roach said.
The best opportunities are likely in Asia, he said, where there's little opposition to the seal hunt.
"Well, it's my understanding, and from my observation, that when you get into China, the issue of proper resource management would trump the emotional concerns of some anti-sealing groups," Roach said.
"And the Canadian harvest is managed very carefully, cautiously and conservatively."
Groups that oppose the seal hunt are happy that the hunt on Hay Island isn't going ahead.
The Humane Society International said markets are shrinking as more countries boycott seal products.
Grey seal hunt set to begin
China newest market for Canadian fur
By Mike Barber, with files from Chris Hayes, Cape Breton Post, Canwest News ServiceFebruary 3, 2010
The first of Canada's commercial seal hunts should open early next week off the coast of Cape Breton, signalling the beginning of one of the country's most controversial practices.
Alain Belle-Isle, a spokes-man for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said he anticipated the official start date for the grey seal hunt -- focused around Hay Island -- would be early next week. That will be followed by the much larger harp seal hunts off Newfoundland next month.
Last year's overall seal hunt was one of the smaller in recent years, said Belle-Isle.
Compared to the $33 million sealers contributed to the Canadian economy in 2006, they made about $13 million in 2009 -- as the average price of a seal pelt plummeted from its normal range of just under $60 to $17.
Sealers last year harvested 72,407 harp seals, a substantial decrease from the 215,467 hunted in 2008, said Belle-Isle. He said the European Union's decision to ban the import of all seal products also contributed to the small yield.
The EU move has forced Canada to look elsewhere for markets. Last month, federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea and several Canadian sealing companies were in Beijing, China, where seal fur is increasingly sought after.
Belle-Isle said that about 6,000 licensed sealers, most of whom live along Newfoundland's east coast, rely on the hunt for their livelihoods.
But as soon as sealers take to the ice, they can expect some company from the humane society and other animal rights groups. While the department says that the harvest is humane, sustainable, and closely monitored, the hunt has drawn the ire of animal activists for years.
Humane Society International spokeswoman Rebecca Aldworth said representatives from her organization will be on Hay Island to document any hunt that occurs to provide filmed evidence of "inhumane" killing to other governments around the world that are considering banning seal products.
She called the Hay Island seal hunt "one of the cruelest in existence today."
Hay Island is part of the Scaterie Island Wilderness Area, about 40 kilometres east of Sydney, N.S.
© Copyright (c) The Windsor Star
Chinese sales push raises sealers’ hopes
By LAURA FRASER Cape Breton Bureau
Wed. Jan 13 - 4:46 AM
Clothing made of seal skin is displayed at the International Leather and Fur Show in Beijing, on Wednesday. Canada's fisheries minister courted Chinese officials Tuesday in a bid to secure new markets for the country's controversial seal industry as other nations shut their doors on the maligned products. (ANDY WONG / AP)
Fisherman Robert Courtney says he foresees a better year for sealers in Nova Scotia as federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea wrapped up a two-day trade mission to China on Tuesday promoting Canada’s sealing and fishing industries.
Increasing Canada’s ties with the Asian superpower could more than offset an expected loss in revenue because of the European Union’s ban on importing seal products, a law that was passed last year. China is the world’s largest consumer of fish and seafood, according to a media release from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
"Last year, the markets were down, not just because of the ban but because of (the downturn) in the economy," said Mr. Courtney, president of the North of Smokey-Inverness South Fishermen’s Association.
"But with the turnaround in the global markets, hopefully we’re going to pick up, and if this can happen for us in China, it would really be a plus."
The seal hunt off Hay Island, off the northeast coast of Cape Breton, was all but aborted last year when a buyer for the fur pelts backed out, saying he could not find an international customer. Fishermen ended up culling only 200 seals for a Newfoundland company, far short of their quota of 2,220.
Anti-sealing activists suggested at the time that the incoming European ban signalled a death knell for a practice they consider inhumane.
Canadian officials, including Ms. Shea, launched an aggressive marketing campaign in Europe last year to promote the seal hunt as a Canadian cultural tradition that the government monitors aggressively.
A spokeswoman for the Humane Society International Canada said the government’s continued promotion of the seal hunt goes against the wishes of most Canadians. An Environics poll in 2008 found that 79 per cent of those surveyed opposed the cull.
"It’s disgraceful to pour public money into promoting the sealing industry," Rebecca Aldworth said. "We don’t want the government using our money to promote seal products around the world.
"It’s also a futile gesture, because the Canadian government has been putting a lot of money into trying to open up the Chinese (market) to seal products for many years."
Ms. Aldworth said the government should instead focus on compensating fishermen for giving up their sealing licences, effectively ending the hunt.
China is Canada’s second-largest trading partner. Ms. Shea met with Chinese officials Monday and Tuesday to discuss the sustainability and humaneness of the Canadian seal hunt, according to a media release.
"I’m pleased to visit China to promote Canada’s fishing and sealing industry and advance closer co-operation on issues of mutual interest," she said in the release. "By advancing sustainable fishing practices, scientific research and enhanced trade in fish and seafood, we can create greater economic opportunities for Canadian and Chinese industry."