The Politics of the Seal Slaughter By Captain Paul Watson.
Paul Watson is the Founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society a non-profit, non-governmental, direct action organization supported entirely by public contributions and devoted to protecting the citizens of the ocean as long as necessary. He has led seven campaigns to the ice to protect seals.
It’s not easy being a Canadian. We don’t get a helleva lot of respect. For most of the world, especially in the United States, our closest neighbor, we are a quiet people with an unremarkable history occupying a considerable amount of frozen geography.
They’ve heard a few things about us. Pamela Anderson, for one, maple syrup, another. And there is, well, Canadian Club, which brings to mind one thing we are most famous for:
We host the largest single slaughter of a wildlife species anywhere on Earth.
Our annual massacre of harp and hood seals is renown internationally both for its magnitude and for its gruesome cruelty. The seal club is more world famous than the rye whiskey variety.
Not that it makes a helleva lot of sense. It doesn’t make money and hasn’t for decades. The sealers have been glorified welfare bums living high on subsidies and are paid more for what they are than what they do.
Sealing in Eastern Canada and especially in Newfoundland is a sacred cultural icon. More Newfoundlanders died on the ice floes than in wars; never mind that it was because of the arrogant folly of ignorant merchants and sealing captains who prize seal pelts over human life. No, to criticize sealing is to criticize the very soul of Newfoundland.
So the long and the short of it is that the price of that piece of Rock in the Atlantic was the tarnishment of all Canadians in the eyes of the world as club wielding killers of baby seals.
It used to be that there was a market for seal pelts and seal fat. Today, with a million seal pelts stored in Norwegian warehouses at government expense, there is no market. Seal pelts are as illegal in Europe and the United States as heroin or cocaine. But the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, after spending a few million dollars, created a new market by convincing Asian impotents that powdered harp seal penises mixed with powdered tiger bone will get them up and running again.
Speaking to a reputable Chinese medical doctor, Dr. Mao-Shing Ni of Santa Monica, CA, about this cure for impotence, he just rolled his eyes. “Quack medicine,” he said.
But a market for penises was enough of an excuse to lend legitimacy for return to the commercial seal hunt.
It must be remembered that the killing of seals in Canada has never stopped. From 1984 through 1995, the average kill was about 60,000 animals. This was called the non-commercial hunt, conducted by thousands of landsmen who spread out over thousands of miles of coastline. Each took a few seals for their own use, although in recent years that use targeted males rather than females.
Not satisfied with the quiet reactions to the non-commercial hunt, Admiral Brian Tobin called for a quota of a quarter million seals. Being a politician, he could have conveniently forgotten the scorn of the world directed at Canada in the 1970’s. But Mrs. Tobin didn’t give birth to a moron. Tobin had gone through his larval phase of being a politician as a lawyer. He had then gone on to Ottawa and emerged as a full-blown Minister of Fisheries. He couldn’t care less if the rest of the planet looked on Canadians as the Lorena Bobbitts to the world. He had a good solid reason for concocting the penis trade and escalating the numbers.
Tobin wanted to be Premier of Newfoundland and like any good little Newfoundland boy with aspirations of being top dog, he was going to say what Newfoundlanders wanted to hear.
Now one thing that Newfoundlanders do not want to hear is that they were responsible for the destruction of the cod. No not the Spanish, not the seals, but their very own fleet of homegrown monster draggers. Aye, that’s the b’yes who done it for sure. But they don’t want to be reminded of that fact, no siree, George. They needed a scapegoat and they got one. The culprit’s first name is Harp and his last name is Seal.
How convenient coming from a Department that said in July 1994 that the seal hunt was dead. Tobin’s exact words were: “Canada will not consider a return to seal culling despite fisherman’s claims that the seals threaten Newfoundland’s endangered northern cod. Evidence of the impact of the seals in the destruction of cod was not clear, “ he said. “There is no doubt in my mind that man has been a far greater predator”(Toronto Star, Jan 20, 1996).
Politics is the art of the possible and what Tobin wanted to make possible was his election as Premier of Newfoundland. With the announcement that the killing of the seals would bring back the cod, Tobin won the support he needed.
He was, in fact, peddling a big lie: that the seals are the reason that the cod is not recovering. He conveniently forgot that the harp seal is not a big cod gourmet. The seal actually preys on other fish that prey on cod and there is evidence that, rather than harming the species, the seal is a benefit to the cod. Following government logic, the cod should be killed to protect the cod because the biggest predator of young cod is older cod.
I remember debating the former Premier at Memorial University in 1989. It was an event I can only describe as being somewhat akin to Churchill debating Hitler-in Berlin in 1942. I did not have a single member of the crowd on my side and most wanted to cut my throat.
Mark Small, president of the Canadian Sealing Association, wearing his signature sealskin jacket, asked me what would happen if the commercial seal hunt started again. I answered him truthfully. “You are a rock in the North Atlantic advocating something the rest of the world finds abhorrent. You will be crushed with an economic sledgehammer like you won’t believe.”
And now, the economic swords are being drawn from their sheaths. The International Fund for Animal Welfare has called a boycott of canned pacific salmon in Europe. A debate has already taken place in the British Parliament, a nation of animal lovers. The boys on the West Coast are wondering now just what is Newfoundland good for? Certainly its fascination for seal bashing ain’t going to do British Columbia any good.
The seal kill is not about economics. It is simply a dirty, bloody, subsidized business benefiting the dirty, bloody, subsidized business of politics.
In April, seals were being slaughtered again on the ice. In record numbers. Tens of millions of people around the world are not thinking very highly of Canada. Newfoundlanders are amusingly being dismissed as barbaric peddlers of sex potions. Canadian taxpayers are shelling out huge subsidies to underwrite this grisly welfare program. British Colombian fishermen are being hurt by the boycott of salmon. Meanwhile, seal protection is a thriving business churning out millions of pieces of mail that return millions of dollars. Since 1970, there has been more money made from saving seals than from killing them.
Brian Tobin is the only man in Canada who has benefited. The man who used his office as Federal Minister of Fisheries to enhance his political stature is now Premier.
That’s what this has all been about.