Hundreds of seals gather on the ice of the Port Saunders. — Transcontinental Media file photo
The seal hunt opened in the Gulf of St. Lawrence Tuesday, but some residents on the Northern Peninsula are complaining they just can’t get seal meat for food.
Abel Taylor, living in Raleigh on the Northern Peninsula, said that if the area wasn’t so “maggoty” with fisheries enforcement officers, he would have just poached a couple of seals earlier this year.
“You can’t go and poach one because, I mean, it’s crawling with (enforcement officers),” Taylor said.
“If they spent the money that they’re spending on guarding the seals and put it into search and rescue, maybe we’d be better off today than what we are.”
Taylor has a commercial sealing licence, but at 70 years old he’s retired and doesn’t want to go out to the ice. Earlier this year, though, the ice came to him; the seals and the ice pans were right in on shore, and he said he could have just gone down to the beach and taken a couple animals.
“The younger people growing up today don’t want it. They’re too far into hamburgers and chicken and hot dogs and so on and so forth,” he said. “But we older people, I mean, we all depended on it for years and years and years, and we still like to have access to do it until we die.”
New Democrat MHA Christopher Mitchelmore said he’s been hearing from quite a few people who say they’ve been having trouble getting personal-use seal licences.
Commercial licences cost about $5 and allow a hunter to take an unlimited number of seals. Mitchelmore said new commercial use licences have been frozen.
The personal use licences cost the same amount, but a licence holder can only take six seals.
Mitchelmore said a lot of people don’t know that they can get a personal use licence, though.
“A significant number of people don’t realize they can get up to six seals under a personal licence,” he said. “It’s not being marketed or promoted at all by the department of fisheries and oceans at a level that is acceptable.”
Mitchelmore said that the enforcement and regulation is just too strict, and it’s keeping from people from getting seals.
“They wanted to have access to seal — no more than three seals — so they can have a fresh meal of seal and to also bottle some up for later use,” he said. “We do want to make sure that the resource is managed and it’s very sustainable, but we shouldn’t have restrictions and enforcement that are so stringent that it’s impacting seniors. It’s impacting people and their way of life.”
Ron Burton, area chief of conservation and Protection for DFO, said that all you need for a personal use licence is a firearms certification and to attend a DFO information session.
“These sessions include training in the three-step process for ensuring humane harvest. In 2012 Fisheries and Oceans Canada, we actually had 14 personal use seal information sessions throughout the province,” he said. “Any time we do these kinds of educational sessions, we advertise through various means — public notices, different media, sometimes in the paper, sometimes it’s on the Fisheries Broadcast or a combination of both.”
As far as enforcement, Burton said that shouldn’t matter.
“It’s illegal. If the season’s not open, it’s not open. Whether there’s an officer in the area or not, people should not be using that as their criteria for whether they go sealing or not.”
The folks on the Northern Peninsula have an unlikely ally on the issue, in Sheryl Fink, director of the seal program for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Fink said the IFAW is opposed to the intenerational trade of seal products, but if the meat or fur is being used locally, that’s just fine.
“If the meat is being consumed locally or if the fur is being worn locally, that’s really more of a subsistence hunt,” she said. “Our concern comes into play when animals are being hunted and their parts are being put into the international wildlife trade because historically, we see that as where we run into problems with substantiality and conservation.”
Fink and a group from IFAW are in the province to observe and document the seal hunt, looking for fisheries violations and inhumane treatment.
Taylor, for his part, says he won’t be going out this year. When the seals are in close to the shore, he could basically just go down to the beach and take one, but he isn’t going to go out to the front in a boat.
And while the sealers who do go out will bring back flippers, Taylor said it’s just not the same.
“I mean, you go into a restaurant and yes, they’ll say ‘fresh cod.’ But, I mean, where do they get the fresh cod? It’s fresh to some people because they don’t know what fresh is,” he said. “The same way with seal. I mean, you go out and go to some of those commercial boats that are doing the commercial seal fishery, the flippers or whatever they bring in are all thrown in a vat or a tub of some kind on top of each other, not iced half of the time. You’re eating meat that’s not like fresh meat.”