Case Study: Canada says "Kill Seals!" (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Mon, 12 Feb 1996 18:15:45

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Subject: Case Study: Canada says "Kill Seals!" (fwd)
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Subject: Canada says "Kill Seals!"
(from ANIMAL PEOPLE,  January/February 1996)
 ST. JOHNS,  Newfoundland--Blaming harp seals for a 99% decline in the mass
of spawning cod off the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland,  Canadian Fisheries
Minister Brian Tobin on December 18 moved to appease out-of-work cod fishers
in his home province by expanding the 1996 seal killing quota to
250,000--actually higher than many annual quotas during the peak years of the
seal hunt in the 1970s and early 1980s.
 In effect resuming the all-out seal massacres that prompted international
protest until clubbing newborn whitecoats and hunting seals from large
vessels was suspended in 1983,  Tobin also pledged to maintain a bounty of
about 15c U.S. per pound for each dead seal landed,  and said he would
encourage the revived use of large vessels to help sealers attack seal
breeding colonies on offshore ice floes.
 The prohibition on killing whitecoats remains in effect,  but only means
young seals will be killed not as newborns but as two-week-old beaters,  just
beginning to molt and crawl.
 Tobin's announcement came two months after Tobin and the fisheries ministers
for the Faroe Islands,  Iceland,  Norway,  and Russia,  and a representative
from Greenland,  agreed on a joint plan to promote sealing--and one month
after international newswires circulated an unconfirmed report that Canada
was close to striking a deal to sell up to 250,000 seal carcasses a year to
an Asian buyer.  The Canadian government has been severely embarrassed by an
International Fund for Animal Welfare campaign worldwide to expose the lack
of market demand for seal products.  A report on seal marketing strategy
commissioned by the Canadian government,  published in November 1994,
 confirmed that more than half of seal product income is derived from the
sale of penises to the Asian aphrodisiac trade.  At that,  the average price
paid to sealers for seal penises is only $20 to $26.  The report found no
viable markets for seal meat,  oil,  or fur.
 Lack of sales opportunities helped hold the official 1995 Atlantic Canada
sealing toll to just 67,000,  of a quota of 186,000.  But that was before
Canada moved from trying to encourage sealing as an industry to the present
stance of wanting to kill seals willy-nilly.
 Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Sea of
Slaughter author Farley Mowat in a joint statement quoted Ottawa Citizen
coverage of a Tobin speech made on July 7,  1994:  "Canada will not consider
a return to seal culling on its east coast,  despite fishermen's claims that
the seals threaten Newfoundland's endangered cod.  Evidence of the impact of
seals in the destruction of cod was not clear,  Tobin said.  'There is no
doubt in my mind that man has been a far greater predator,'  he said."
 Tobin argued in his December 18 declaration of war on harp seals that their
numbers have doubled since 1983,  to 4.8 million,  and could reach six
million in just five years without a revived massacre.  His logic was
weakened,  however,  by his simultaneous claim that up to 287,000 seals a
year could be killed before leveling the population. According to Tobin,  the
seals ate 142,000 tons of Atlantic cod.
 "There is no scientific data that harp seal populations have increased
substantially,"  responded Watson and Mowat.  "There is scientific data to
demonstrate that cod is not a major or significant part of a harp seal diet.
 In fact,  the largest predator group affecting cod are other fish species.
 It is these species that harp seals do prey upon significantly.  Removal of
harp seals could increase the numbers of fish that prey upon young cod.  The
ecological complexity of the Grand Banks is not factored into Tobin's
                                 Suppressed evidence
 Guelph University marine mammologist David Lavigne and the International
Fund for Animal Welfare anticipated Tobin's announcement of an expanded seal
hunt with a December 17 press conference,  at which IFAW publicized a British
boycott of Canadian salmon to protest Canadian sealing,  while Lavigne
accused Tobin of suppressing evidence that seals as well as cod need
 "If [government] scientists aren't allowed to freely discuss their results,"
 Lavigne charged,  "they cannot function as scientists."
 Former Department of Fisheries and Oceans biologist Peter Meisenheimer,  now
with the International Marine Mammal Association,  had rebuked Canadian
government manipulation of scientific data in a December 6 posting to the
Conservation Biology Discussion Group on the Internet.      "Every result
produced by DFO sceintists who have actually looked for evidence of an impact
of [cod] stock recruitment [by harp seals] has shown absolutely none,"
 Meisenheimer said. "In a recent paper in Science,  DFO biologists found no
evidence.   At a recent North Atlantic Fisheries Organization meeting,  DFO
folks presented an abstract which specifically addressed the issue of seals
and stock recruitment and reported no evidence of an impact.  Whatever the
reason,"  Meisenheimer continued,  "DFO has chosen to ignore the findings of
these biologists and has pursued a campaign that is an insult to those who
are legitimately concerned with conservation and to many of their own staff.
 In support of their position,  they have used a population model of harp
seal abundance that is methodologically biased toward producing a higher
result in the recent year;  an inappropriate statistical test is employed,
 apparently because the appropriate test would find no significant difference
in population between 1990 and 1994;  and DFO public relations indicates that
there has been a stepwise annual increase in [seal] populations,  when they
have no data to show such a finding.  Models for grey seals are structured
around the assumption of an effect on recruitment and are then used as
evidence of such an effect.  This has culminated in a release from DFO in
which they make the definitive and utterly false statement that harp seals
are limiting groundfish stock recruitment.  DFO scientists who have made
public statements contradicting this claim are rumored to have been
officially reprimanded."
 "The cod population crashed,"  Watson and Mowat argued,  "because of
Canadian Department of Fisheries mismanagement," based on falsified science,
 "in allowing large Canadian drag trawlers a free rein on the Banks.  The Sea
Shepherds have waged campaigns on the east coast to protect both cod and
seals.  In both cases,  we are protecting them from the same thing--the
incompetence of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.  Brian Tobin managed
to hoodwink Canadians with his so-called get-tough policy against Spain,"
 Watson and Mowat added,  referring to Tobin's spring order to intercept
Spanish trawlers,  which came nearly two years after Watson and crew,  with
Mowat's cash support,  intercepted the Cuban trawler Rio Las Casas in the
same general area--and five months before Watson served 30 days in jail for
the effort.  But the Rio Las Casas fished no more after the 1993 encounter
with the Sea Shepherds,  whereas,  Watson and Mowat charged,  "Four to five
dozen giant foreign trawlers continue to take cod,  turbot,  redfish,
 etcetera each day" in the area of the government interception.
 "The Sea Shepherds will be organizing international demonstrations,
 advertising campaigns,  mobilizing celebrities,  and returning to the ice
floes to once again protect harp seals,"  Watson and Mowat pledged.
                                      Political timing
 They also suggested,  on December 20,  that Tobin might be acting with
further political ambitions first in mind.  On December 28,  Newfoundland
premier Clyde Wells,  58,  announced his retirement,  after heading the
provincial  government since 1989.  Reported the Reuter news agency,
 "Widespread media speculation suggests that Brian Tobin,  the high-profile
minister of fisheries and oceans in the Liberal-led federal government and a
native Newfoundlander from Cornerbrook,  will run for the leadership job."
 As a former TV reporter,  Tobin is well-positioned to feed such speculation
while using sealing to keep himself before Newfoundland voters until a
leadership convention is convened to pick Wells' successor.  Wells said he
hoped the convention would be held before the end of March--shortly after the
sealing season ends.
 Friends of Animals noted another aspect of Tobin's timing.  "It was only
last week,"  said FoA president Priscilla Feral,  "that Canada persuaded the
European Council of Ministers to accept a 12-month delay in the implementing
 their regulation to embargo the import of furs caught by use of cruel
trapping methods,"  which was to take effect on January 1,  and now has been
postponed to 1997--or may be dismantled.  "We recall that the bloody
slaughter of harp seal pups on Canadian ice has long been a sensitive issue
in Europe,  which has a longstanding embargo on their furs,  as well.
 Imagine if Tobin had made his announcement before the European ministers
met.  Such an offensive announcement might have jeopardized the delicate
politics involved in persuading the Europeans to accept the products of
                                        Seal notes
 On December 20,  two days after Brian Tobin announced the expanded Atlantic
Canada seal hunt,  the pro-hunting British Columbia Wildlife Federation
called for a Pacific coast hunt of harbor seals,  ostensibly to protect
overfished salmon.
 Norway set 1996 sealing quotas on December 23.  According to Georg
Blichtfeldt,  secretary for the High North Alliance,  who cited government
sources,  the toll could include 10,900 adult harp seals and 17,500 weaned
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