Apathy has become our middle name

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What would Capt. Abram Kean — the most successful Newfoundland seal hunter, the “Admiral of the Fleet” — think of Pamela Anderson and her million-dollar tease?

No doubt that kind of cash would have gone a long way back in the 1920s, when Kean, in his 70s by then, was a living sealing legend.

A sealer lucky enough to sign on aboard a “wooden wall” such as Kean’s (the Australian convict vessel Success was described as “luxurious by contrast”) earned $10 to $12 a week, if they were “helbows in de fat” long enough.

I imagine Kean would turn his back on Anderson and the offer, once he realized the Canadian beauty sees him and his outport ilk as baby killers.

What would Kean, with a half-century of seal killing and a million pelts under his belt, think of militant activist Paul Watson for elevating the harp seal to “lamb of God”?

I imagine Capt. Kean would rise from his icy grave, as would his loyal crews, and set sail immediately for the heavenly front.


The 1985 report of the Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing in Canada quoted a sealer/fisherman in describing himself as an “endangered species.”

“I am endangered but I still fight back. I will survive. I will not let animal rights become more important than human rights. I will not let people give souls to animals while they rob me of my human dignity and right to earn a livelihood."

Today’s sealer is more endangered than ever, as products from the yearly harvest are banned in country after country, but the fight is vicious in us yet.

The biggest slap

Moreso than any other slight, “Newfie” on down, Newfoundlanders take any criticism of the seal hunt as a direct personal attack. Not just against us, who we are as a people, but against our forefathers, our very outport soul.

To attack the seal hunt is to attack Newfoundland. To attack the seal hunt is to poke the bear that is the fighting Newfoundlander. While it’s always a relief to see that the spirit lives, it could be better focused.

We stood by as the Conservative government failed to make the seal hunt a deal breaker at European trade talks. We did not stir in response to ban after ban of Canadian seal products.

Not rising up

Newfoundlanders were called to arms, but failed to rise en masse, just as we have yet to stand up, in any great measure, for the Grand Banks and what were once the planet’s greatest fisheries.

The sealer today is as endangered as the fisherman, they are one and the same. There is no vision, no blueprint for rebirth. The latest salvation is the surrendering of the provincial law that protects our right to process fish. Fish plants are on the trade table and the filleting knife is out.

The lifting of European fish tariffs is hailed by most as a victory, but have we grasped the trade off? Nothing is free, trade included.

Well done, Mark Critch, for dismissing Pam Anderson to That Far Greater Baywatch with such honourable flair.

As for the future, we seem content to defend our right to a seal hunt above our right to an industry. And that’s fair enough, but we can’t be afraid to have the conversation about the current sea state.

What would Capt. Kean have to say of the fishery/seal hunt today? Better yet, what would his crews think?

I imagine they’d be ashamed of our apathy. God guards those who guard themselves.

Ryan Cleary is the member of Parliament for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl.

Organizations: Royal Commission on Seals

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Cashin Delaney
    December 23, 2013 - 10:26

    It is not honorable flair critch displayed to make Cleary commend his action. He acted like Cleary, and of course, he loves that like he loves himself. Sanctimonious pretenders who have little life experience in the matters they expound on. Without humour, or knowledge they repeat stock phrases designed to war whoop stupid baymen to act as boorish as they do. Any bigmouth could do what Cleary does here in any country of the world, whoop people up by regurgitating history and slogans and little more. Substance Cleary. Stop cheer leading and get in the game for f@@@ sakes man.

  • scottie
    December 23, 2013 - 09:58

    Europeans are hypocrites for protesting the seal hunt while turning a blind eye to halal slaughter by Muslims on their own soil. Halal slaughter is the cruelest of all slaughter, but it gets a free pass because it falls under religion and we are too sensitive to criticize it. If the sealers were Muslim, no one would say a word.

  • Kev
    December 21, 2013 - 21:39

    Read as far as the byline.

  • Winston Adams
    December 21, 2013 - 09:09

    I suggest that Capt. Kean would sacrifice his men and their safety for the Allmighty Dollar. When a sealer made 50 dollars, he made 5000. Yes, Nflders competed for the seal hunt, the one time when they got 50 dollars cash and risked life and limb. My grandfather, John Adams was a sealer and fisherman, from Bishop's Cove, not far from Mr. Cleary's hometown. My father, Capt. |Esau Adams became a master mariner. He was never a sealing captain. Heading into Hudson Bay in 1913, he wrote about the crew on a supply steamer, who for sport, shot and killed numerous polar bear, including the young ones. He referred to it as murder. The white coat seal hunt was rather inhumane. You describe the seal front as the "heavenly front" Have your read the book "the world's greatest hunt? It well describes the inhumane conditions . The front being heavenly is akin to the Beaumont Hamel front being called sacred ground. A place where mass murder took place. Next year is the anniversary of the loss of the Newfoundland and the Southern Cross sealing ships, and the terrible loss of life that hit all of Nfld, as well as the start of WW1. I remember Kean's role in the sealing disaster. Fortunately, we no longer have to risk life and limb to keep from starving. But I bought a seal skin coat for my wife and I wear seal skin slipper. But don't romanticize the seal hunt, or suggest the killing of seals is inherent to who we are.