Hundreds of seals gather on the ice of the Port Saunders. â 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 canât get seal meat for food.
Abel Taylor, living in Raleigh on the Northern Peninsula, said that if the area wasnât so âmaggotyâ with fisheries enforcement officers, he would have just poached a couple of seals earlier this year.
âYou canât go and poach one because, I mean, itâs crawling with (enforcement officers),â Taylor said.
âIf they spent the money that theyâre spending on guarding the seals and put it into search and rescue, maybe weâd be better off today than what we are.â
Taylor has a commercial sealing licence, but at 70 years old heâs retired and doesnât 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.
âThe younger people growing up today donât want it. Theyâre too far into hamburgers and chicken and hot dogs and so on and so forth,â he said. âBut 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.â
New Democrat MHA Christopher Mitchelmore said heâs been hearing from quite a few people who say theyâve 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 donât know that they can get a personal use licence, though.
âA significant number of people donât realize they can get up to six seals under a personal licence,â he said. âItâs not being marketed or promoted at all by the department of fisheries and oceans at a level that is acceptable.â
Mitchelmore said that the enforcement and regulation is just too strict, and itâs keeping from people from getting seals.
âThey wanted to have access to seal â no more than three seals â so they can have a fresh meal of seal and to also bottle some up for later use,â he said. âWe do want to make sure that the resource is managed and itâs very sustainable, but we shouldnât have restrictions and enforcement that are so stringent that itâs impacting seniors. Itâs impacting people and their way of life.â
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.
âThese 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,â he said. âAny time we do these kinds of educational sessions, we advertise through various means â public notices, different media, sometimes in the paper, sometimes itâs on the Fisheries Broadcast or a combination of both.â
As far as enforcement, Burton said that shouldnât matter.
âItâs illegal. If the seasonâs not open, itâs not open. Whether thereâs an officer in the area or not, people should not be using that as their criteria for whether they go sealing or not.â
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, thatâs just fine.
âIf the meat is being consumed locally or if the fur is being worn locally, thatâs really more of a subsistence hunt,â she said. âOur 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.â
Fink and a group from IFAWâare in the province to observe and document the seal hunt, looking for fisheries violations and inhumane treatment.
Taylor, for his part, says he wonât 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 isnât going to go out to the front in a boat.
And while the sealers who do go out will bring back flippers, Taylor said itâs just not the same.
âI mean, you go into a restaurant and yes, theyâll say âfresh cod.â But, I mean, where do they get the fresh cod? Itâs fresh to some people because they donât know what fresh is,â he said. âThe 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. Youâre eating meat thatâs not like fresh meat.â