Captain Paul Watson: Of course the regulations are supported by the sealing industry. The regulations have been drafted to support the sealing industry. The regulations are indeed strictly enforced but only against opponents of the seal hunt. The only people arrested, charged and convicted under the regulations have been conservationists, animal welfare and animal rights advocates, and media people. There has never been a forfeiture of a boat or a license or a fine imposed on the sealers for cruelty or quota violations. The statement that the annual catch fluctuates from year to year is inconsistent because the quota of 350,000 seals to be killed has been pre-set for 2003, 2004, and 2005.
The quotas do not take into account the diminishment of ice over the last few years and this has resulted in higher natural mortalities. Nor does the quota take into account the diminishment of fish resulting in less fish for seals.
The quota of 350,000 seals is the highest quota since the 19th century, when killing as many seals as possible was the name of the game. This present quota is outrageous and is part of a policy of species eradication and has no sound management principles to back it up.
Canada's Consul General's Office: The hooded seal TAC has been fixed at 10,000 since 1998, although the harvest has recently been less than 200 animals a +year. The commercial harvest of hooded seal pups (Blue backs) is prohibited.
Captain Paul Watson: This statement is nonsense. Blueback seals, or baby hood seals are indeed taken and the numbers of hoods taken each year including last year, exceeded 10,000.
Canada's Consul General's Office: Only small numbers of Gray seals are hunted each year and a TAC has not been established. While there are no estimates of the population size of ringed seals in Canada, in recent years the ringed seal harvest in Labrador has been 2,000 or fewer animals per year. Ringed seals are also an important resource to the Inuit who hunt them throughout the Arctic for subsistence purposes.
Captain Paul Watson: The above statement is not even relevant to the harp and hood seal slaughter. This is an attempt by the Canadian government to tie the Inuit native communities into the controversy. There are no native participants in the harp seal slaughter and this suggestion of ring seals is meant to convey the idea that there is. The fact is that the opposition to the Canadian harp and hood seal hunt does not include any opposition to Inuit sealing.
Canada's Consul General's Office: Concerning the harp seal, the TAC has been fixed at 275,000 since 1997. The killing of harp seal pups (whitecoats) has been prohibited for many years.
In the past 20 years the TAC has only been reached twice. However, for 2002 an increased catch was allowed due to a healthy and abundant seal population that could sustain the increased TAC and market conditions. At season's end, there were approximately 312,000 harp seals taken and the estimated size of the herd was more than five million.
Captain Paul Watson: Whitecoats are taken. We have seen the evidence of it on the ice. The other problem is in the definition of what a baby seal is. Canada now defines an adult seal as any seal over three weeks of age.
The 2002 kill was not allowed. It was a criminal violation of the quota. It was allowed afterwards because there were no charges for quota violations. There are no firm numbers. The population of harp seals ranges from 2.4 million to 6 million depending on who you speak with.
Canada's Consul General's Office: In February 2003, DFO announced a new, multi-year management approach to the Atlantic seal harvest. The harp seal TAC is now set at 975,000 over three years with an annual TAC of up to 350,000 in any two years. For example, sealers could take 350,000 seals in two of the three years, but would only be allowed to take 275,000 in the other year.
Captain Paul Watson: This is not correct. The quota has been set at 350,000 per year or 1,050,000 seals and this just proves that the Canadian DFO bureaucrats can't add. 350,000 X 3 = 1050,000 and not 975,000.
Canada's Consul General's Office: Harp seals are the most abundant on the Atlantic coast and are the major species hunted for commercial purposes. The North Atlantic harp seal population is healthy and abundant at 5.2 million, based on the latest peer-reviewed survey. By comparison, it was 1.8 million in 1970. The harp seal herd is healthy and abundant. This species is not endangered, either in Canada or globally. The herd will not be threatened by this year's harvest.
Captain Paul Watson: There is no peer-reviewed study available on this population assessment. If there is we have not seen it. Independent biologists that we have consulted do not agree with this assessment. The seals are indeed threatened. The numbers have fallen dramatically. Five hundred years ago there were thirty million harp seals and a very healthy fish population. Today, with less than five million seals, the fish populations have also been greatly diminished.
I can say after twenty-five years of involvement with the Canadian seal hunt that it is a cruel and wasteful slaughter and it is a hunt that does threaten the survival of the harp seal species.
The government of Canada has demonstrated it's management incompetence repeatedly and quite frankly has lost credibility with the conservation community. Economically, the seal slaughter contributes nothing to the economy and is a financial drain of tax-dollars. It is a glorified welfare project designed to scapegoat the seals for the mismanagement of the cod fishery by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Canada's Consul General's Office has been represented in the Q&A by
Consul and Program Manager
Political and Economic Relations and Public Affairs
Consulate General of Canada
1175 Peachtree Street, N.E.
100 Colony Square, Suite 1700
Tel: (404) 532-2030
Fax: (404) 532-2050