Ho-hum hunt

Andrew
Andrew Robinson
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Seal industry ailing, though China offers a sliver of hope

After 35 years of fishing out of Carmanville harbour, Larry Easton decided to skip last year's seal hunt for first time in 10 years.

And his chances of going back to it this year look slim.

Easton traditionally hunted seal, and fished for crab and caplin. In the past, the seal hunt offered an opportunity to make decent money from a week's work.

Larry Easton of Noggin Cove shovels snow off the Lady Easton, a boat he shares with his brother, Tony. In past years, the Eastons were regular participants in the seal hunt, but poor prices and low demand kept them on the sidelines in 2009. - Photo by And

Gander -

After 35 years of fishing out of Carmanville harbour, Larry Easton decided to skip last year's seal hunt for first time in 10 years.

And his chances of going back to it this year look slim.

Easton traditionally hunted seal, and fished for crab and caplin. In the past, the seal hunt offered an opportunity to make decent money from a week's work.

"It was always a good start to the spring, especially for the few years before last year," he said. "You could go out and turn over perhaps $40,000-$50,000 in a week or two. There's costs too, but the crew would make a good week's pay."

Low prices and minimal demand for product last year kept Easton's boat tied to the docks.

"Ice conditions were really terrible, too," he said. "There was heavier ice that came up last year. There's not as much ice this year, so we'd have to go further up north. They don't want any this year anyway."

"They" are the seal pelt buyers.

Easton, who lives in Noggin Cove, northwest of Carmanville, used to sell most of his product to Carino Company Ltd. in Dildo, but they're not buying.

Frank Pinhorn, executive director of the Canadian Sealers' Association, said most buyers are carrying old inventory.

"Some in the industry have inventory going back three or four years, and they paid a lot of money for (the pelts). It's going to be very difficult for them to recover the costs on that, simply because they paid too much for a poor-quality pelt," he said. "We're still paying the consequences for that."

This year's quotas were released last week by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). The total allowable catch is 330,000 - an increase of 50,000 - from an estimated seal population of 6.9 million.

Approximately 70 per cent of the quota is allocated to the Front, where Kittiwake Coast hunters would most likely go.

According to DFO, roughly 74,000 harp seals were killed last year, a decline of more than 60 per cent from 2008.

The average price for a pelt last year was $14, but even at $20, the hunt would be a lost cause, Easton said.

"When you look at $20 compared to what we got five or eight years ago, between $80-$100, it's a big difference."

Pinhorn said there's been no indication of what prices might be like this year, but he's not expecting much change from 2009. He anticipates fewer seals will be killed, and said the need to travel further up north will increase costs for sealers.

Easton said the quota increase is too little, too late.

"Four or five years ago, when they were worth something and we were crying for more, (DFO) wouldn't give us an increase. Now that there's no market, they give us an increase of 50,000 seals. It's crazy."

If there is to be a future for the industry, Easton said it may lie in new markets like China. In January, federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea went there to promote seal. China is Canada's second-largest trading partner and the world's largest consumer of seafood.

"If we could get (China) onside, no doubt it would be a plus for the industry," said Easton.

Europe is one market with little promise. Last July, the European Union voted to adopt a ban on all seal imports, except those coming from traditional hunts carried out by members of indigenous groups.

In any event, Easton said the hunt must continue in some form in the years to come, as the seal population can't be allowed to keep growing at the rate it has been over the last four decades, since it affects valuable fish stocks such as cod.

"The herd is growing in leaps and bounds," said Pinhorn, "and somewhere down the line, we're going to have to harvest seals."

In another world, Easton would have liked to one day get his son involved in the hunt and with his fishing enterprise, but under the circumstances, he's encouraging him to continue with his nautical science studies.

"If there was any future in it, there's nothing I'd like better than to pass this on. But there doesn't seem to be any future in this - not long-term, anyway."

A date for the start of the seal hunt has not been announced.

Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Carino Company, Canadian Sealers European Union

Geographic location: China, Carmanville, Gander Noggin Cove Dildo Canada Europe

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Recent comments

  • Joan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    Donna del Sigillo says it all, in a highly intelligent and truthful manner. I'm with her and the government should do the right thing for a change, and call off this ridiculous and abominable hunt.

  • amazed
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    Are you nuts? There 6 million + seals out there, the numbers taken are sustainable, and history proves this, seals are no where near extinction.

    You calling it the cruel commercial hunt , plus other comments about the tragic ice conditions only shows your true agenda.
    905,000 children were the victims of child abuse in 2006. Put your energy behind helping a far more precious resource.

  • side
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Here we go again: Seals are eating our fish! Yeah right

    humans are the reason fish stocks are low, no seals - you ignoramises!
    That is up there with Whales eat into our fish stocks too so lets slaughter the lot....

  • Donna
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Tragically the Government of Canada is once again putting politics ahead of science.

    In this cultural and political milieu, Canada's once abundant wildlife such as seals, polar bears, black and grizzly bears, and wolves, are now being slowly exploited to extinction.

    The Department of Fisheries and oceans continues its campaign of vilification against the seals, charging that their increasing numbers are destroying the commercial fisheries. It continues to ignore the assessment of independent scientist such as Dr. Sydney Holt, the acclaimed and eminent marine biologist and former director of the Fisheries Resource Division of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. As Dr. Holt pointedly stated: There is not one single case anywhere in the world, where scientific evidence, critically evaluated by independent experts, demonstrates that 'culling' of marine mammals would be beneficial for fisheries resources.

    The Grand Banks fishery was the richest for centuries, but was fished out by ignorant, short-sighted, greedy fishing companies and a compliant Canadian government.

    Why is the government allowing the closure of so many fish plants and why does it permit huge amounts of Atlantic fish to be shipped to China for processing?

    DFO has a long history of mismanaging marine ecosystems, yielding to the short-term interests of the fishing and sealing industries at great cost to jobs and marine life.

    This year, the lack of ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has led to a high mortality rate for seal pups. And yet the cruel commercial hunt continues. In light of these tragic ice conditions, the responsible thing for the government to do is to call off the seal hunt.

    Like so much else in Canada, this is unfortunately mostly a cultural and political issue, rather than a scientific one. The Government of Canada appears to be unable to use the wealth of information science provides to make rational decisions about the future.

  • Chrissy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    If the European Union, a 27-country 'organization, decides the Canadian Commercial Seal Hunt is barbaric, inhumane and an outright slaughter of 'babies' that haven't even eaten their first solid meal yet, then Minister Shea should give her ego-inflated head a good shake. China may be a 'huge' trading partner for Canada, but let's not forget that their 'love' for animals are quite questionable, to say the least. The bottom line is that the Canadian Government supports the COMMERCIAL seal slaughter---otherwise known as 'Legalized Animal Abuse'. How shameful.

  • Stan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    And yet the cruel commercial hunt continues.

    cruel is an opinion and not a scientific one so leave it out. i think that human poverty and genocide is cruel but nobody seems to be trying to stop that. maybe humans aren't cute and furry enough. by the way, stop eating chickens and cows and pigs because lets face it their lives are about as cruel as you can get so...

  • Joan
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    Donna del Sigillo says it all, in a highly intelligent and truthful manner. I'm with her and the government should do the right thing for a change, and call off this ridiculous and abominable hunt.

  • amazed
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    Are you nuts? There 6 million + seals out there, the numbers taken are sustainable, and history proves this, seals are no where near extinction.

    You calling it the cruel commercial hunt , plus other comments about the tragic ice conditions only shows your true agenda.
    905,000 children were the victims of child abuse in 2006. Put your energy behind helping a far more precious resource.

  • side
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    Here we go again: Seals are eating our fish! Yeah right

    humans are the reason fish stocks are low, no seals - you ignoramises!
    That is up there with Whales eat into our fish stocks too so lets slaughter the lot....

  • Donna
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    Tragically the Government of Canada is once again putting politics ahead of science.

    In this cultural and political milieu, Canada's once abundant wildlife such as seals, polar bears, black and grizzly bears, and wolves, are now being slowly exploited to extinction.

    The Department of Fisheries and oceans continues its campaign of vilification against the seals, charging that their increasing numbers are destroying the commercial fisheries. It continues to ignore the assessment of independent scientist such as Dr. Sydney Holt, the acclaimed and eminent marine biologist and former director of the Fisheries Resource Division of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. As Dr. Holt pointedly stated: There is not one single case anywhere in the world, where scientific evidence, critically evaluated by independent experts, demonstrates that 'culling' of marine mammals would be beneficial for fisheries resources.

    The Grand Banks fishery was the richest for centuries, but was fished out by ignorant, short-sighted, greedy fishing companies and a compliant Canadian government.

    Why is the government allowing the closure of so many fish plants and why does it permit huge amounts of Atlantic fish to be shipped to China for processing?

    DFO has a long history of mismanaging marine ecosystems, yielding to the short-term interests of the fishing and sealing industries at great cost to jobs and marine life.

    This year, the lack of ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has led to a high mortality rate for seal pups. And yet the cruel commercial hunt continues. In light of these tragic ice conditions, the responsible thing for the government to do is to call off the seal hunt.

    Like so much else in Canada, this is unfortunately mostly a cultural and political issue, rather than a scientific one. The Government of Canada appears to be unable to use the wealth of information science provides to make rational decisions about the future.

  • Chrissy
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    If the European Union, a 27-country 'organization, decides the Canadian Commercial Seal Hunt is barbaric, inhumane and an outright slaughter of 'babies' that haven't even eaten their first solid meal yet, then Minister Shea should give her ego-inflated head a good shake. China may be a 'huge' trading partner for Canada, but let's not forget that their 'love' for animals are quite questionable, to say the least. The bottom line is that the Canadian Government supports the COMMERCIAL seal slaughter---otherwise known as 'Legalized Animal Abuse'. How shameful.

  • Stan
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    And yet the cruel commercial hunt continues.

    cruel is an opinion and not a scientific one so leave it out. i think that human poverty and genocide is cruel but nobody seems to be trying to stop that. maybe humans aren't cute and furry enough. by the way, stop eating chickens and cows and pigs because lets face it their lives are about as cruel as you can get so...