Fisheries unions request that seal hunt start early

Fisheries Unions in Newfoundland and Labrador are calling for an early opening of the hunt.

UPDATE: In a decision that is disastrous for the welfare of seal pups, the Government of Canada has caved to hunters and opened an adult seal hunt from March 28th to April 7th — right in the middle of whelping season, when seals are most vulnerable.

As if the poor harp seals didn’t have it bad enough. Ice conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence were abysmal this year, meaning many pups likely drowned or were crushed to death in the ice. Now, sealers in Newfoundland want to open the annual slaughter two weeks early, removing one of the few protections remaining for this iconic Canadian species.

Harp seal pups are born on the ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in late February, and on the front off Newfoundland in early March. This timing is variable, however, and may be affected by changing ice conditions, with pupping being delayed or extended in years of poor ice conditions.

Harp seal pups are highly dependent on their mothers for the first two weeks of life.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada closed the Commercial and Personal Use Seal Hunt in Newfoundland and Labrador on 15 March this year, to allow mothers to give birth to their pups and nurse without disruption. The closure also reduces the risk that whitecoat seal pups will be killed.  

Now, the Fisheries Unions in Newfoundland and Labrador are calling for an early opening of the hunt, supposedly so that fishermen may kill adult seals.

But this argument seems suspicious, since 99 percent of the harp seals killed in recent years have been pups under three months of age known as “beaters,” targeted primarily for their skins.  There are few markets for seal meat, and according to landed catch statistics, some 92 percent of the meat from the annual hunt is currently wasted. The most valuable part of an adult harp seal in recent years has been its penis, raising renewed concerns about increased involvement in a bogus seal-penis sex potion trade.

It is virtually impossible to identify an adult female from an adult male harp seal at a distance. Although the Marine Mammal Regulations prohibit killing adult seals in whelping patches, it is difficult to see how this will be enforced. DFO themselves state that the annual closure is intended “to allow time for seal whelping and nursing”. Opening the annual slaughter before pups are weaned raises the possibility that nursing females will be killed, leaving their pups to starve to death.

In addition, it increases the likelihood that adult seals will be shot at in the water at a time when their blubber reserves are low, and chances of sinking are high.  The 2005 report of the Independent Veterinarians Working Group recommended that seals should not be shot in the water due to the high probability of “struck and lost” and wounded seals suffering unnecessarily.

For their part, Fisheries and Oceans has said they have not decided whether to bend to the sealers’ demands. We urgently need your help to stop this from happening!

--SF

 

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