The recent recommendation by a Senate committee that the federal government should pay hunters to slaughter grey seals in Canada’s Maritime region is beyond stupid.
It is rushed, ill-advised, ideologically suspect, and flies in the face of what evidence is available. It also disregards scientific submissions presented to the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans after the Conservative government asked it to look into its proposal to kill about 70 percent—as many as 70,000--of the grey seals living in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
British Columbia’s sole committee representative, Nancy Greene Raine, should hang her head in shame, or at least be prepared to explain, in detail and with evidentiary exactitude, why she is in favour of this obscene October 23 recommendation.
The fact that she is an appointed lapdog for the ruling Conservatives should be no grounds for apology.
That is not to say that the federal Liberals’ hands are clean when it comes to logic-defying decisions regarding marine-mammal culls in Canada’s Maritimes. The shameful harp-seal hunt has been condemned worldwide for decades but it has been enabled—in actuality, subsidized—by successive Liberal and Conservative governments falsely hiding behind the twin shields of aboriginal sovereignty and regional employment.
Neither of those positions holds up under even cursory scrutiny, the kind that a 12-year-old with access to the Internet could muster.
Few Canadians are opposed to a limited Native hunt for ceremonial and subsistence purposes, even for a measure of economic betterment. As well, the number of Maritimers employed for a few weeks per year in the seal hunt—as well as the per-capita income derived from same—has plummeted to insignificant numbers in the face of almost nonexistent international markets for seal products following many years of well-organized protests and boycotts. The European Union, the U.S., and Russia have banned seal products from Canada, and China, our only real remaining customer, seems to be wavering in its support.
The price for seal pelts fell to an all-time low only a few years ago, and other than a disappearing dog-food market for the meat and a relatively small Asian “aphrodisiac” market for seal penises, there appears to be almost no justification remaining to prop up the barbaric “hunt”.
Most seal carcasses are left to rot on the ice or sink in the cold depths of the ocean. And the number of people who think “flipper pie” is actually a mainstay of Maritimers’ diet is probably fewer than those who believe shark-fin soup to be essential to the health and well-being of the Chinese.
But now the Conservatives are pretending to be supporting the almost nonexistent East Coast cod fishery in their zeal to slaughter seals, in this case the grey seal. This is the same superabundant fishery that was destroyed by overfishing under Ottawa’s watchful gaze.
In actuality, all federal governments are terrified of alienating Maritime voters. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of seals have died, sometimes in inconceivably violent and cruel fashion, to preserve seats in Parliament for the ruling party of the day. The fact that even a shallow exploration of their reasoning proves its falsehoods seems to matter not a whit to them. What this says about their contempt for the Canadian voter, of whatever political stripe, should be a sobering insight.
The Senate committee recognized in its recommendation, after conducting hearings in the matter for the better part of a year, that there were “ecological risks raised by some witnesses” during presentations. A 2011 letter released by Dalhousie University marine scientists said that no scientific evidence existed to justify the proposed cull, and that it could even further deplete cod stocks.
David Lavigne is the science advisor to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. He has studied seals and fisheries for more than four decades, and he concluded his presentation to the committee last February with these words, among many others: “The scientific information currently available does not allow us to reject the hypothesis that seals generally, and grey seals in particular, are NOT [emphasis his] impeding the recovery of cod and other groundfish stocks. Nor does it allow us to reject the hypothesis that a massive grey seal cull could be detrimental, not only to grey seals but to the ecosystem and to the interests of commercial fisheries….The body of scientific evidence simply does not support or justify a decision to cull tens of thousands of grey seals off the East coast of Canada.”
A Fisheries and Oceans Canada (formerly the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or DFO) research paper supplied to the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat in 2011 studied the effectiveness, efficiency, costs, and benefits of predator-control, or culling, programs in Canada and around the world.
Seal slaughters in the name of fish conservation in Africa, Iceland, Norway, the U.K., the U.S., and Canada, with reduction in the marine-mammal populations of up to 80 percent, had, almost invariably, no measurable success, with fish-recovery rates either “unknown” or with “no formal evaluation”.
The reasons for the lack of follow-up studies are not provided, but it requires little imagination to figure out that political expediency would be primary among them.
Even the committee chair, Newfoundland’s Senator Fabian Manning, said at an October 23 Ottawa news conference that “there’s no really solid research anywhere that shows us exactly” what benefits or harm might come from a grey-seal cull. But, like the Japanese whalers cowering from international condemnation behind the bogus banner of “scientific research”, Manning said that “at the end of the [four-year] period, we will have gained that research”.
They will have gained another election’s worth of bought-off votes. And then they will say they need to study the situation further.
Fisheries and Oceans has been studying the contents of seal stomachs for more than three decades. The remains of more than 10,000 seals’ meals now constitute what FOC calls, on its own website, “without question, one of the best data sets of marine mammal consumption in the world. It is a particularly valuable resource for the study of fish such as cod”.
However, for various reasons, and despite the preponderance of data, researchers have been unable to come to any definitive conclusions about how many cod are eaten by seals. Therefore, scientists are now utilizing new, sometimes groundbreaking, methods to analyze seal diet, including fatty-acid signatures in blubber, DNA evidence, and satellite telemetry.
FOC research scientist (and UBC grad) Garry Stenson has studied North Atlantic marine mammals for more than a quarter-century and has been involved in extensive research to determine the proportion of cod in the diet of different species of seals. He is quoted on FOC’s website as saying of this area of research: “Ecology isn’t simple, and the complexity of what appears to be a straightforward question is much greater than most people think.”
In other words, don’t hold your breath waiting for answers from scientists who work for the federal government. At least for another few decades.
And because the Conservatives under Stephen Harper are known for their willingness to muzzle government scientists and label environmental critics as “extremists” in the pay of foreign agitators, we shouldn’t even have any confidence in the ability or willingness of FOC to release any research that might prove that seals do not represent an unnaturally high source of cod mortality.
Cod, seals, and aboriginal inhabitants coexisted in amazing abundance in the North Atlantic before European explorers and settlers came along. Massive mismanagement and overfishing have created the situation with the fisheries resources that we see today.
The unconscionable desire to retain or grab political power at any cost should not be allowed to be the hidden reason for the slaughter of tens of thousands of marine mammals in this country.
If the Conservatives go ahead with the proposed grey-seal hunt, every bounty paid to a Maritime hunter should be regarded as a bribe for a vote. The program should be turned into an election issue. And it should be made clear to both the Liberals and the New Democrats that any support for the measure on their parts will make them targets as well.
This pathetic, ethically challenged political charade has gone on long enough.