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Canada's Three Year Seal Hunt Quota Near a Million

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada,

14th February 2003 (ENS)

The government of Canada has established a new
multi-year harp seal hunt management plan that permits
the taking of 975,000 seals over three years with an
annual quota of up to 350,000 seals in any two years.
The annual seal hunt is about to begin on the ice of
Newfoundland and Labrador. Previous hunt quotas were
set at 275,000 harp seals each year.

Sealer takes aim at a harp seal.
(Photo courtesy Global Action Network)

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Robert Thibault announced the 2003-2005 Atlantic Seal Hunt Management Plan on February 3. "This plan presents sealers with greater certainty in planning their activities and provides greater flexibility for both the department and industry to adapt to variable environmental and market conditions over a three year period," said Thibault.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) expressed outrage at the new higher quotas. "The Canadian government has just returned to the 1800s in terms of animal welfare and conservation," said IFAW president Fred O'Regan. "Their decision raises a host of questions: Where is the scientific justification for killing so many seals? How will the government safeguard a much larger hunt against cruelty? Where are the markets for the pelts?"

IFAW warns that ice in the Northwest Atlantic has begun to disappear at an alarming rate - risking the survival of ice-breeding seal populations.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says that the North Atlantic harp seal population, estimated at 5.2 million, is "healthy and abundant." By comparison, the harp seal population was estimated at 1.8 million in 1970.

"Seal management is founded on sound conservation principles to ensure harvest opportunities now and in the future," said Thibault. "Seals are a valuable natural resource that, when harvested sustainably, provide valuable income to about 12,000 Canadian sealers and their families."

Gerry Byrne, minister of state for the Atlantic Canada
Opportunities Agency, applauded the new approach of
a multi-year management plan. "Sealing provides
important economic benefits to Atlantic Canada and the
inherent flexibility in the plan enables sealers to maximize
their profits over a three-year period."

Harp seal pups like this one are known as whitecoats.
Their coats darken with age.
(Photo courtesy Canada SealHunt)

The department is adopting an Objective Based Fisheries Management approach that uses reference points and control rules to establish management measures for the seal hunt. Reference points are set at 70 percent, 50 percent and 30 percent, based on the maximum observed size of the herd at 5.5 million. The department says it will ensure conservation by maintaining the population at a level above the 70 percent reference point, or 3.85 million.
Under the objective based model, if the full quota is taken over the three year plan, the department estimates the population in 2006 will be about 4.7 million harp seals - well above the 70 percent threshold.

The department will continue to emphasize at-sea surveillance and conduct dockside checks, monitor quotas, check sealers for proper license and observation permits, as well as ensure humane hunting practices, compliance with Marine Mammal Regulations and the proper use of hunting instruments. The department promotes the fullest possible use of each animal harvested.

IFAW says the motivation for the increased quotas is incorrectly based on the idea that seals are eating the dwindling populations of cod. Ten years ago, the federal government declared a moratorium on the cod fishery but the fish stocks have yet to recover.

"The killing of these seals is the government's attempts to hide its own mismanagement of the cod fishery by blaming seals for damage done by human overfishing," said IFAW campaign manager David Loan.

IFAW objects to the seal hunt partly because its observers have found that up to 42 percent of seals are skinned alive. "Several polls have consistently shown the Canadian public is fiercely opposed to the seal hunt, and many Europeans and Americans will avoid buying Canadian products because of the hunt," IFAW says.

"Citizens of Holland will be outraged," said IFAW Holland Director, Marcel Bertsch. "Canada can expect a strong and immediate reaction. We will not stand by and watch this abhorrent practice continue."

Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson holds a harp seal pup on the ice of Newfoundland.
(Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)

"The objective of the plan is extermination," charged Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. A Canadian who has campaigned against the seal slaughter since the 1970s, Watson said the total allowable catch of 975,000 seals is the largest in 150 years.
"The Canadian government believes that by wiping out the seals, that cod fish populations will be restored. Unfortunately there is no scientific justification for this position and the government is undertaking this program to appease disgruntled Newfoundland fishermen," Watson said.

"The seals will be clubbed, shot or drowned in nets," said Watson, who has taken several shiploads of seal hunt protesters and media to the ice. "It is estimated that for every seal landed, another is lost, not recovered and not included in the quota."