The Other Seal Hunt of Canada
By Ericka Ceballos
In Canada grey seals are found in large numbers. Their colonies are in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, in Quebec and in the Canadian Maritimes which are the Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. The largest colony of grey seals in the world is in Sable Island, in Nova Scotia.
The grey seals of Canada main diet consist of herring, skates, ray-finned fishes and fish of the family Gadidae (that also includes the Atlantic Cod Gadus morhua), sand eels, small pelagic fish, crustaceans and cephalopods. Grey seals eat an estimate of about 5 kilos a day, when food is available. During the breeding season they have a period of fasting.
It is important to mention that the grey seals "cousins," the harp seals of Eastern Canada, have been falsely blamed by the Canadian government of consuming too much fish and destroying the cod populations and the ecosystem, and this has been their excuse in the last two decades to decimate the harp seal populations. They blame the harp seals for their own mismanagement and over fishing that devastated the cod populations in 1990, leaving only a 1% of Atlantic cod left (currently only a 2%).
As a matter of fact, there is a possibility that the Atlantic cod will never recover. The Atlantic cod was a top predator with other few big fishes, feeding on smaller prey (e.g. herring, capelin, shrimp and snow crab). But when the cod and other large fish were over fished, their prey increased dramatically its populations, so now they have become the top predators of the cod eggs and the cod larvae.
The grey seals have been commercially hunted for their fur in Canada's East Coast for hundreds of years. By 1949 the grey seals were thought to be extinct in Atlantic Canada. Slowly the populations of Atlantic Canada recovered and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans of Canada (DFO), said that there was an estimated population of 250,000 grey seals in 2004 (This is particularly interesting as the last scientific survey of the population was actually in 1997, and the DFO estimated that 195,000 grey seals were living in the waters of Nova Scotia and that not many seal pups were born every year).
In 2004 a group of fishermen requested Ottawa to kill the grey seals including in the protected area of Sable Island. They claimed and blamed the grey seals for eating all the fish and cod. Sound familiar? That same year the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada agreed to have a quota of 10,000 ending in 2006.
That was just the beginning of the "modern era" grey seal cull.
In the last years, the Canadian government set annual quotas of 12,000 to 50,000 grey seal pups from 2007 to 2010. In 2010 the grey seal cull was canceled, because there were not buyers for the pelts as a result of the ban on seal products at the EU. Most of the seals killed were about 1 month old.
In September 2011, the DFO announced the outrageous news that they are now considering approving a five year cull that could kill 143,000 grey seals on the East Coast, which is a 70% of all the seals in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence! Now the Canadian Senate Standing Committee is conducting a study in the grey seal populations, how they affect the cod stocks. They are also studying the proposal for a large scale cull on the basis that seals are eating fish that "belongs" to the fishermen, and is required as a way to manage the overpopulation.
The fishermen say that they want to toss the carcasses of the seals to the sea or leave them on the land to rot, as there is no seal fur market after the import ban on seal products at the European Union was implemented in 2010.
Hay Island in Nova Scotia is a sanctuary and has been designated as a protected wilderness area. This island is also the second largest breeding place for grey seals in the world. Sealing in a protected wilderness area is illegal, except if it would be considered essential as a measure to protect the biodiversity of the island. The Minister of Environment of Nova Scotia was criticized by anti sealing groups, and when he was unable to provide a good reason for the slaughter on this basis, the government approved a law removing this requirement, making it easy for the Minister of Environment to approve the slaughter.
Regarding Sable Island, it is a wildlife preserve protected by the Canadian government with only 6 people inhabiting the island. It is forbidden to go there without a permit of the Canadian Coast Guard. In May 2010 the government confirmed its intention to protect it under federal law and to declare Sable Island as a National Park.
But if the purpose is to further protect the only wildlife of this isolated island (birds, seals and horses), how is it possible that the DFO wants to kill the island grey seals? That is the senseless contradiction mentality of our government.
So in the DFO "logic" every non human that eats fish deserves to be clubbed or shot? Killing seals with wooden clubs, shooting them, using traps to caught them under water and using nets to drown them, are senseless, brutal and inhumane.
When is the DFO going to stop playing God and stop killing to extinction all our marine wildlife in Atlantic Canada to "control" the populations?
We the anti sealing people believe this is an act of revenge against the Canadian seals as a desperate response to the EU ban. Canada is losing the war for the harp seals, so they are trying to prove that they can do as they wish, regardless of what Canadians have to say about it.
Enough is enough! We don’t want more baby seals to be slaughtered by our government with our taxes!
Too much seal blood already runs on our Canadian soil!
Ericka Ceballos is the Founder and President of Campaigns Against the Cruelty to Animals (CATCA) and Co-Founder of the Western Canada Anti Sealing Coalition (WCASC).
All photos are copyright Bridget Currant (ACASC)
If you want to send some e-mails to the Canadian Senators evaluating the cull, please go to our Grey seals page in our CATCA website: www.catcahelpanimals.org/85.html.
For more information about the grey seal hunt in Atlantic Canada, please check this webpages from the Atlantic Canadian Anti Sealing Coalition: www.harpseals.org/about_the_hunt/grey_seals.php and www.antisealingcoalition.ca/GreySeals/slaughter_history.php.
For more information please visit: www.catcahelpanimals.org/.