The executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association (CSA) says the end of the seal hunt would be an economic disaster for rural Newfoundland.
Frank Pinhorn was reacting to comments made by St. John’s MP Ryan Cleary, who told CBC News it’s time to decide if the provincial seal hunt should end.
“We know that the world appetite is not there for seal meat, but the world appetite for seal products, I don’t know if it’s there,” said Cleary. “And you know what? I may be shot for talking about this, and for saying this, but it’s a question we all have to ask.”
Cleary said the province receives a lot of negative publicity for the seal hunt, and the $1 million in annual revenue it generates might not be worth it.
But Pinhorn — saying the New Democrat MP for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl “doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about” — said the reason the hunt is worth just $1 million a year is because the federal government isn’t doing enough to promote the industry or fight product bans in European markets.
“The CSA has always maintained that the federal government’s attitude and efforts on sealing is extremely weak, and that’s why it’s only worth a million dollars,” he said. “The prices are low, and the Americans ran over the federal government in ’72 (when they brought in the Marine Mammal Protection Act), for no apparent reason. Then the Europeans walked all over Canada three years ago when they were over there dealing with the free trade agreement and they put seals on the back burner. And then they banned the importation of seals in Europe, and now the Russian federation is doing the same thing, so everybody internationally is walking over the federal government, and that is why there’s no market for seals.”
The seal hunt is also necessary to keep harp seals from decimating the commercial fishery, Pinhorn said.
“Each seal consumes on average 1.4 tonnes of fish per year. They consume around 12 million tonnes of commercial species a year,” he said. “If you keep letting the seal population go unchecked, it will be economic disaster for rural Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Liberal MP Gerry Byrne said he doesn’t think Cleary wants the seal hunt to end, but he does worry Cleary’s remarks will give ammunition to the hunt’s critics.
“I don’t believe for one second that Ryan Cleary’s actually calling for the abolition of the seal hunt. But what he has done is inadvertently, most likely mistakenly, fuelled the flames,” Byrne said.
Opponents of the seal hunt, such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), will twist and distort anything to their own ends, said Byrne, MP for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte.
“You can bet your bottom dollar that right now there is being spread around Europe and the U.S. word that a high-ranking Canadian politician, quote-unquote, is second-guessing the future of the Canadian seal hunt and suggesting that the efforts of fill in the blank, IFAW, fill in the blank, American Humane Society or whomever, are directly responsible for it. And they’re actually going to use it in their fundraising campaigns to show their pre-eminence in this effort.”
Cleary was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but in a statement released by his office, he reaffirmed his and the NDP’s support for the seal hunt, but added he won’t back down from debate on the subject.
“The debate about the future viability of the industry is a worthy one and it needs to happen. It can only be a good thing as we chart a future course for our overall fishery,” he wrote. “Having this debate does not signify in any way an end to the hunt — we simply need to start talking. For too long, simply raising the seal hunt issue has been taboo. It shouldn’t be.”