2018 seal hunt close to the end
ST. JOHNS, Newfoundland––Perhaps the surest sign that the annual Atlantic Canada seal hunt is fading into history is the lack of prominence it has had this spring in the St. Johns Telegram, the leading media voice serving Newfoundland since 1879, which through April 2018 had barely mentioned it since reporting the hunt had opened on April 9.
As of April 26, 2018, 58,764 harp seal pups had been ‘landed,’ according to Fisheries & Oceans Canada, out of a quota set at 400,000, near the peak numbers killed in the heyday of commercial sealing.
“Confirm a market before going sealing”
With the toll approaching that of 2017 (66,000) and 2016 (66,800), and no hint of new markets for seal pelts developing, “Seal harvesters are advised to check with their buyers to confirm a market for their seals before going sealing,” Fisheries & Oceans Canada reminded.
The Fisheries & Oceans Canada numbers “do not include seals who were ‘struck and lost,’” i.e. shot in the water but not retrieved, reported www.HarpSeals.org on April 27, 2018, a web site founded by former Sea Shepherd Conservation Society volunteer Ian Robichaud in 2003 to track and expose sealing activity worldwide.
“In many years,” explained www.HarpSeals.org, “tens of thousands of harp seal pups drown before they are able to swim, due to a lack of sturdy sea ice. This year, the sea ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a major pupping area, was poor during the pupping time in February and March. This means that most of the seal pups who were born on the ice in that area probably drowned. Still, prime minister Justin Trudeau allows sealers to kill those who have survived the effects of climate change, in violation of the Precautionary Principle.”
Thick & thin
But if the ice was dangerously thin for seal pups in much of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it was reportedly too dense off Nova Scotia for sealing vessels to penetrate, even with the help of Canadian Coast Guard ice breakers.
“Sealers on the Magdalen Islands usually haul in 2,000 grey seals in the short winter hunting season,” said Julia Page of CBC News. “This year, they did not bring back a single seal, after two failed expeditions out on the Gulf of St. Lawrence,” because they “could not get past the thick ice.
Trevor Hodgson, Canadian Coast Guard icebreaking superintendent for the Atlantic region, struggled to explain the contradictory conditions at a media briefing in St. Johns.
“Compared to what we look at as normally a 30-year average, we are looking at being well below the average amount of ice for this time of year,” said Hodgson. “There’s less ice than normal on the Labrador coast, which led to less ice on the northeast coast of Newfoundland.”
Intra-Quebec Sealers Association president fined for poaching
Resumed Page, “In past years when the hunt yielded few grey seals, Réjean Vigneau, president of the Intra-Quebec Sealers Association, admits he and his colleagues would sometimes hunt illegally on Brion Island — an uninhabited island set aside as an ecological reserve. For years, sealers have called on the Quebec government to lift the ban on seal hunting on Brion Island, claiming the reserve is now overrun with seals who are depleting fish stocks.
“So far the province has refused,” and has not only refused, but has stepped up law enforcement around Brion Island.
“Just last month, Vigneau and his partner, Denis Éloquin, were fined $2,625 for hunting on the reserve for commercial purposes,” Page finished. “Six other hunters who accompanied the pair were fined $100 for being on an ecological reserve without authorization.”
“Harp seals don’t eat a lot of cod”
“Harp seal populations have exploded since the 1992 cod moratorium,” wrote National Post columnist Tristin Hopper, “leading to a persistent notion that hungry seals are delaying the return of the cod fishery,” depressed now for more than 30 years. “The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, meanwhile, has consistently pooh-poohed the idea, noting that harp seals don’t eat a lot of cod — and that cod stocks have been rebounding in tandem with the harp seal recovery.”
Addressing a variety of widespread misconceptions about the Atlantic Canada seal hunt, Hopper also mentioned that, “Activists didn’t manufacture images of ice floes piled with skinned seals. A byproduct of the seal hunt is that thousands of pounds of seal meat, seal bones and seal organs will end up tossed into the ocean. Newfoundlanders do eat seal; seal flipper pie is a local favorite. But there’s simply no market to absorb the meat from 70,000 seals per year.”
“Struck & lost” seals
Hopper further noted that “Both in the Arctic,” where Inuit indigenous sealers kill about 35,000 seals per year, “and the Atlantic, there are also ‘struck and lost’ seals,” who “are killed but sink to the bottom before they can be collected.”
The Department of Fisheries & Oceans found in 2000 that up to 10% of young seals and 50% of seals a year of age and older sink before being retrieved.
“As animal products go, though, seal hunting doesn’t have a monopoly on waste,” Hopper wrote. “In 2014, Fraser Valley poultry farms were forced to slaughter and compost 140,000 chickens and turkeys due to an outbreak of avian flu. Meanwhile, most processed fish products come from pollock, a fishery that has accidentally caught (and wasted) up to 122,000 Chinook salmon in peak years.”
Sealing preserved by politics
Hopper predicted that “seal clubbing will never die” because “Hunting seals may ignite outrage abroad, but it is one of the few issues supported by virtually every Canadian Member of Parliament, regardless of region or party.”
This, however, is largely because Atlantic Canada has historically held the swing votes in a national Parliament divided among multiple regionally strong political parties respectively aligned with Quebec, Ontario, and the three prairie provinces: Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Only four prime ministers in the past 60 years have governed with clear majorities.
India in early April 2018 became the 35th nation to prohibit the import of commercially hunted seal products, joining the 28 members of the European Union, the U.S., Switzerland, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Mexico.