Upping seal quota 'a little stupid': fisherman

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Fisheries

Since last year, slumping market conditions have kept Jack Troake's sea legs planted firmly on dry land, away from the ice floes carrying seals off Newfoundland.

The veteran fisherman from Twillingate said he doesn't intend to head out this year, either, despite an increase in the allowable catch for the East Coast commercial seal hunt.

Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea

Since last year, slumping market conditions have kept Jack Troake's sea legs planted firmly on dry land, away from the ice floes carrying seals off Newfoundland.

The veteran fisherman from Twillingate said he doesn't intend to head out this year, either, despite an increase in the allowable catch for the East Coast commercial seal hunt.

"To us sealers, it sounds a little stupid," said Troake, who has more than 50 years' experience hunting seals.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced Monday it's increasing the hunt's quota by 50,000 harp seals.

But Troake said there's no sense in raising the quota now, given a market where seals only fetch about $15 each - a steep drop from the record $105 per pelt in 2006.

Fishermen, he said, had trouble meeting quotas back when they were pocketing $100 a seal.

"If the seal fishery takes off again and if everything's in our favour, then it's hard for them to justify cutting back. That's one positive side to it, I guess," he said Tuesday. "But as for now, it's no good to us."

Last year, 74,581 harp seals were killed out of a total quota of 280,000, according to the department. In 2008, 217,857 harp seals were taken from that year's quota of 275,000.

"We don't go at this because we love doing this," Troake said. "You gotta look at the economics of it. We do this to put the food on the table and keep the old roof from leaking."

Seal hunt opponents said upping the quota is one in a series of political stunts that began last May when Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean sampled a slice of raw seal heart in Rankin Inlet.

Then there was "Senator Celine's seal slush soiree," said Bridget Curran, director of the Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition.

Last Wednesday, MPs and senators of all stripes chowed down on bacon-wrapped seal loin at a headline-grabbing luncheon on Parliament Hill. The event was organized by Liberal Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette to show support for the sealing industry, which is facing a European Union ban on seal products.

"They're thumbing their nose at Canadians and to the European Union," said Curran. "It's pure political posturing.

"They're making these gestures to sealers to keep them sweet because they want the Atlantic Canadian fishermen's votes."

But federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said the decision to boost the quota, like all matters concerning the hunt, was based on "science and fact."

"Criticism regarding our government's support for the Canadian seal hunt, including increasing the TAC (total allowable catch), is a bit rich coming from special interest groups who continue to cloud this issue with misinformation," said Shea in an e-mail.

Shea said the harp seal population is estimated at 6.9 million - more than three times what it was in the 1970s.

This year's higher quota puts the allowable catch for harp, hooded and grey seals at 388,200. As in the past, about 70 per cent of the quota is allocated to fishermen working in the waters northeast of Newfoundland and Labrador - an area known as the Front - while the Gulf of St. Lawrence receives the rest.

Curran said opening the hunt with a higher quota is irresponsible considering the poor ice conditions in the Gulf. Even some fishermen have said the conditions are so poor they may not venture out to hunt.

Environment Canada said Tuesday the ice cover in the Gulf is the lowest since it began keeping records, which dates back to 1969. The Gulf is normally about 80 to 90 per cent ice-covered at this time, but the ice cover this winter is closer to five per cent.

The situation is similar off Newfoundland, where ice has only formed off the tip of the Northern Peninsula. Ice typically extends as far south as it approaches to St. John's this time of year.

Sea ice is vital to the life cycles of seals in the North Atlantic. During late winter, harp seal females deliver their pups on ice floes, and early ice breakup could increase mortality rates.

The federal government has not announced a start date for the seal hunt in the Gulf or the Front, though it usually begins this month.

Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, European Union, Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition Environment Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, East Coast, Rankin Inlet Northern Peninsula St. John's North Atlantic

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Recent comments

  • simple fisherman
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    We may not be able to sell the seals we hunt due to market conditions and price, but if the seal population keeps sky-rocketting like this the government should allow open season for all hunters to cull these animals that come within range of the shoreline. What a shame that would be though. Instead of harvesting the animals and making use of all their parts (unlike many animals that are penstocked and sent to the abertoire), the dead seals would be left to rot just to get the population under control. We can't have them control their own population by eating themselves out of their fish supply because that would drastically affect fishermen's catches. I strongly advocate a cull on seals as it only makes sense. If this were to go ahead, it would seem these animal right's groups who unfairly target sealing for profit, would have triggered this cull by their own greed and bad decision-making, leaving this whole mess to rest squarely upon their shoulders. If they really cared, they would work with the government, the fishermen and the sealers to effect a sensible and viable solution - but we all know that's not their objective.

  • simple fisherman
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    We may not be able to sell the seals we hunt due to market conditions and price, but if the seal population keeps sky-rocketting like this the government should allow open season for all hunters to cull these animals that come within range of the shoreline. What a shame that would be though. Instead of harvesting the animals and making use of all their parts (unlike many animals that are penstocked and sent to the abertoire), the dead seals would be left to rot just to get the population under control. We can't have them control their own population by eating themselves out of their fish supply because that would drastically affect fishermen's catches. I strongly advocate a cull on seals as it only makes sense. If this were to go ahead, it would seem these animal right's groups who unfairly target sealing for profit, would have triggered this cull by their own greed and bad decision-making, leaving this whole mess to rest squarely upon their shoulders. If they really cared, they would work with the government, the fishermen and the sealers to effect a sensible and viable solution - but we all know that's not their objective.