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* Canada Senate approves grey seal cull

* Carino sells seal pelts

* Sealers killed 70,000

* 3 More Namibian sealing license-holders

* Moving in for the kill

* Hunting for the hunters

* Seal hunt too risky for larger vessels

* Sealing on the Front to start April 12

* Animal groups decry seal hunt quota

* DFO sets seal quota

* Grey seal hunt a bust this year

* Eight grey seals killed

* Shrinking demand leaves seal hunt in limbo

* Dead seals not cause for alarm -DFO

* Newfoundland sealing in limbo

* Sealers waiting on weather, ice conditions

* Sealers in Nova Scotia gear up for grey seal kill

* Sealers keeping eye on ice, markets

* Harp seal hunt debate - population declining

* Grey seal hunt doubtful



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The Canadian Seal 'Hunt' 2012 and the Namibian Cape fur seal slaughter 2012

Note: we reprint articles as they are written, complete with erroneous information. We urge those who care about seals to educate themselves by perusing the various sections of our website.



Plan to cull 70,000 grey seals gets Senate panel's approval

Gulf of St. Lawrence plan makes no sense, Dalhousie biologist says

The Canadian Press
Posted Oct. 23, 2012

The Senate's fisheries committee has endorsed a contentious cull of 70,000 grey seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence over a four-year period, in a bid to conserve cod stocks.

The Senate's standing committee on fisheries and oceans began hearings last year to respond to a Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat call for an experimental — and unprecedented — cull of grey seals.

On Tuesday the committee released a report that acknowledged "the ecological risks raised by some witnesses" but nevertheless supports "the logic of the proposed experimental reduction of grey seals in this area."

There were an estimated 104,000 of the animals living in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence as of 2010, the Senate committee said in a news release.

The report also recommends setting up a bounty system to compensate hunters, but it didn't say how much the bounty should be. There is no market for grey seal pelts.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) blames the seals for preventing cod stocks from recovering in the Gulf.

Acting fisheries minister Gail Shea is under pressure from the fishing industry to do something about the stalled cod recovery in the Gulf, where there's indirect scientific evidence suggesting hungry grey seals are to blame.

But critics say that plans for a cull have been driven by politics, not science.

A group of marine biologists at Dalhousie University in Halifax issued an open letter last fall that said a cull could produce unintended consequences, including further depletion of the cod.

The letter said the proposal couldn't be justified by existing scientific evidence and was biased because it focused only on the negative impact of grey seals.

Jeff Hutchings, a biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said that a cull of grey seals could not be expected to save cod.

"It's not a two-species ecosystem. It's a multi-species ecosystem," said Hutchings, who appeared before the Senate fisheries committee.

EU ban reduces seal market

Hutchings said the available science does not support a cull.

"One cannot credibly predict from a science perspective whether a cull of grey seals would have a positive impact on cod or negative impact on cod … or no impact whatsoever," he said.

Grey seals represent only a small percentage of the annual seal hunt in Eastern Canada, with harp seals by far dominating the traditional market.

However, that market has collapsed in recent years, in the wake of a European Union ban against Canadian seal products.

The Senate committee isn't the first group of legislators to recommend a cull of grey seals. In May 2007, an all-party Commons committee recommended that Sable Island be opened up to a grey seal hunt, but that recommendation was ignored.

Although the Fisheries Department says seal hunters can kill up to 60,000 grey seals annually, only a few hundred have been killed since 2009.

Frank Pinhorn, executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association, said trying to turn a grey seal cull into a commercial venture could be a hard sell.

"The price would have to go up, because it would have to be worthwhile for sealers to go and harvest these animals in order to make it worthwhile for them to do so," he said.

With files from CBC News

© The Canadian Press, 2012


Seal pelts selling briskly

Published on September 29, 2012
James McLeod

Seal pelts - Photo by James McLeod - The Telegram
Wayde George handles pelts at the seal tannery in Dildo. It’s a labour-intensive process that takes more than three weeks to fully cure and tan a sealskin. —Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

Industry has taken a tanning, but processor thinks it’s bouncing back

The seal tannery is bustling on a sunny September morning, as workers handle large stacks of pelts in various stages of processing.

The work here continues year-round as workers tan and dye the tens of thousands of seal skins that were harvested this spring on the sea ice around Newfoundland.

“This is a production facility more like Terra Nova Shoes than a fish plant,” Carino Processing Ltd. CEO Dion Dakins says as he takes The Telegram on an exclusive tour of the facility.

It’s steady work, and it employs around 25 people full time in the community of Dildo. The people in the plant are happy for the work and the contribution to the local economy.

“Lot of caring people; good outport people,” says worker Tony Johnson as he walks by.

It’s labour-intensive too, he says.

The pelts get tossed in sawdust, soaked in brine, treated with tanning chemicals, shaved, dried, dyed and then examined and graded before they’re ultimately sold and shipped to market.

But the whole works of it exists on a precarious position; Dakins says matter-of-factly that if the company hadn’t received a loan from the provincial government this spring, the plant wouldn’t be operating this year.

That would likely have been disasterous for the province’s seal industry; minimum processing requirements forbid the shipping out of raw pelts, and the Carino facility is the only tannery currently operating in the province.

“In 2006 we had five tanneries operating in Newfoundland and Labrador on seal products employing the same number of people in five communities around Newfoundland and Labrador,” Dakins says. “This industry will be successful when that many tanneries or more are operating again in Newfoundland and Labrador. That will be true success — taking the available quota based on sound science.”

Right now, that goal is a long way away. The hunt this year was fairly successful, but harvesters still only took a fraction of the total quota set by DFO.

And while Dakins is at great pains to make it clear that the provincial government loan was not a subsidy — it bears interest, and the terms of the loan require repayment — he also wouldn’t be in business without it.

Workers are very much aware of the political position of the seal hunt. They keep track of the Russian seal ban, and ongoing issues in the European Union.

“We hang in here,” says Wayde George, who’s been working in the industry for more than 30 years. “We have ups and downs. … I just hope it’s going to keep going the same.”

Animal rights groups like the Humane Society International and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have painted the government loan as a subsidy to the industry. Workers at the plant are very aware of the loan, and thankful for it.

But Dakins says the subsidy label has been a major problem for him in other parts of the world; it makes it more difficult to sell the pelts at market value.

In nearly every aspect of the tannery, the politically charged position of the seal hunt lurks.

Some of the pelts get dyed a light silvery “polar” colour, dilute enough that you can still see the animal’s spots. That product is very popular with many Newfoundlanders, who are proud to wear seal products.

But many, many more pelts get dyed dark brown or black. Those are more popular internationally, and they’re often used for hats and the trim on coats as a cheaper fur that’s comparable to mink.

When asked where they’re selling the pelts, Dakins flatly refuses to say.

“It’s been a standard thing within the industry, we’re not divulging our markets anymore,” he says. “What we don’t want to do is give animal rights groups the opportunity to find out where our markets are and go in and undermine our marketing initiatives.”

Wherever they’re going, business seems to be good for the moment. When Fisheries Minister Darin King announced that the government would be putting up a loan to Carino in April, Dakins told reporters the money would be paid back by Christmas.

He says they’re still on track for that; they’ve sold their entire backlog of previous year’s pelts, and at the current pace, they’ll sell out of this year’s stock by the time the hunt begins again next spring.

When asked how he characterizes the current business climate around seal products, he responds with one word: “optimism.”

He says he’s talking more and more about the ecological aspects of the seal hunt, and how it’s a sustainable source of fur, oil and meat.

“The explosion of seal populations globally and the decreasing availability of wild-caught fisheries. That’s what’s changing. People are starting to realize you can’t ignore one species,” he said. “People are starting to realize that management has to be considered on all levels of the ecosystem. You can’t manage one portion and ignore all the rest.”


Twitter: TelegramJames



Hunters killed 70,000 harp seals

Published on May 29, 2012

JOHN’S, N.L. (Canadian Press) — Newfoundland and Labrador’s fisheries minister says 70,000 harp seals have been killed during this year’s commercial seal hunt — nearly twice the number that was killed last year.

Darin King told the provincial legislature that 680 sealers took part in this year’s hunt, which had a total allowable catch of 400,000.

About 38,000 harp seals were killed last year.

King says he believes the higher catch level reflects an opening of markets in Asia, an argument animal rights groups contest.

Earlier this year, the provincial government announced a $3.6 million loan to Carino Processing Ltd., a seal products company, in an effort to kick-start the hunt.

The funds went to Carino Processing to buy seal pelts and blubber.



Sealers not happy with more players

The Namibian
May 8, 2012

Cape Cross Cape Fur Seal colony - photo Christof Maletsky
HARVESTING TIME ... A seal colony of adults and pups at Cape Cross. More right holders will be granted permits to harvest seals this year, according to the Ministry of Fisheries. Photo: Christof Maletsky

Existing seal harvesting right holders are not happy with the addition three more new rights holders to what they describe as a small, but established sealing industry.

The Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Bernhard Esau has announced that three new rights holders would be granted licences to participate in the annual seal culling exercise. Existing rights holders say that may result in the industry bleeding to death.

Esau recently appointed three more rights to the existing three, bringing the total to six right holders – the most since the Namibian government took control of the sealing industry.

The current seal biomass eligible for harvesting will not be able to sustain this, the sealers argue.

What is clear though is that, according to the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, the new right holders are “mostly previously disadvantaged”.

Last year Esau told the newspaper that he would increase seal quotas and rights for this year’s harvesting season in an attempt to “create jobs”.

For the past two decades there have at most been four right holders, but only three have managed to keep their concessions. The three established right holders are Seal Products (Pty.) Ltd, Cape Cross Seal and Namibia Venison Exporters.

Seal Products and Cape Cross Seals are a joint venture and have their concession north of Henties Bay at Cape Cross and Rocky Point, while Namibia Venison Exporters’ concession is near Lüderitz.

Esau said that the quotas still have to be established before they can be awarded, but would not say whether the quota would indeed be more this time around.

The announcement of quotas is expected to be in June. The seal harvesting is from July 1 to November 15. The quota for the period 2008 to 2011 included 91 000 seals, of which 85 000 are pups and 6 000 are bulls.

Where these right holders will have their concessions is also yet to be announced, but according to the existing right holders, there “is not enough place” for more.

“There is just not enough place for more,” said Gys Cilliers of Seal Products in Henties Bay.

Currently the seal colony at Cape Cross is the only viable colony to harvest. The Rocky Point colony north of Cape Cross has apparently dwindled, but the Cape Fria colony has grown and “could be” sustainable.

The problem is Cape Fria is hundreds of kilometres north of Henties Bay, and there is no processing plant, while proper access to the beach is limited.

The only viable colonies to the south near Lüderitz are Wolf Bay and Atlas Bay, which is currently managed by Willem Burger’s Namibia Venison Exporters.

“There are not enough viable colonies to sustain more right holders. The industry will not make it; in fact, it will bleed to death economically,” said Burger.

What is more troubling is that if the quotas are not increased by much, the existing quotas would then have to be divided amongst six right holders, and all would have to compete with one another at the only viable colonies.



Moving in for the kill

Published on April 23, 2012
James McLeod

Activists say the hunt is on its last legs; politicians optimistic it will bounce back

Last in a two-part series

Sealers north of Fogo Isl. - Photo James McLeod - The Telegram
North of Fogo Island two sealers take a break from hunting as a helicopter from the International Fund for Animal Welfare circles overhead. Many seal hunters stop working when they see a helicopter overhead rather than face the scrutiny of animal rights activists. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

This is exciting. There’s blood in the back of the boat, and this is about as close to seal hunting as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) crew has been in hours.

Mostly, scanning along the northeast coast, they’ve just seen millions of empty ice pans.

Sheryl Fink is clearly getting frustrated.

The director of the seal campaign for the IFAW, she was up at 4:30 a.m. — too pumped to sleep.

For the past few days, her crew of anti-sealing activists have been grounded by freezing rain, low fog and wind.

But now they’re in the air, under clear skies and brilliant sun.

Word is there are a couple of small boats north of Fogo Island and, after refuelling, the helicopter finds a tiny open boat among the ice pans.

Witnessing the hunt first-hand is a bizarre experience.

Anybody can go on YouTube and watch IFAW videos of the seal hunt, complete with commentary from Fink.

The experience in the helicopter is nearly identical. Sitting in the chopper, you watch the hunters on screens.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) regulates seal hunt observers, and they’re not allowed to get too close to the boats — certainly not close enough to see any detail with the naked eye. Instead, they use a high-powered camera mounted on the outside of the chopper, and watch the hunters on LCD screens.

On the screen, though, you can clearly see that the two hunters have cut the engine and they’re lounging in the front of the boat.

“What’s he having for lunch, Sheryl?” asks cameraman Stewart Cook.

Zooming in, you can clearly see the two men eating sandwiches.

“They should share some,” the pilot jokes.

Frustrated by the lack of hunting activity, Fink moves on.


Darin King - Fisheries Minister - Newfoundland and Labrador -  Photo by Joe Gibbons - The Telegram
Fisheries Minister Darin King says the PR war between governments and anti-sealing activists is changing. In recent weeks, King has had ”very positive” meetings with two different animal rights groups. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

As recently as five or six years ago, there were thousands of boats participating in the hunt.

This year, though, the two men having lunch are in one of only a handful of vessels the IFAW has been able to find all day.

“I can’t remember the last time we’ve been this — empty,” Fink says. “This is definitely not the commercial seal hunt as we knew it.”

Observing the seal hunt this year was more or less a bust for the IFAW and their compatriots at Humane Society International.

On April 14, the IFAW chopper covered a massive stretch of Newfoundland coastline, from Deer Lake, out over the Gulf of St. Lawrence and then up to St. Anthony. They scanned bays choked with empty ice floes along the northeast coast before refuelling in Gander and then taking a swing up north and east of Fogo Island.

During that one day, the helicopter travelled well over 900 kilometres and only managed to film a single seal kill.

Both groups left the province earlier this week declaring the seal hunt to be on its last legs.

“It really struck me this year just how low the participation was, despite the offer of government financing, said Humane Society International executive director Rebecca Aldworth.

“I think it really shows that the industry is coming to an end.”


IFAW anti-sealing team - photo James McLeod - The Telegram
International Fund for Animal Welfare seal campaign director Sheryl Fink (left), along with her camera operator and helicopter pilot, scrutinize a Department of Fisheries and Oceans map of sea ice in the St. Anthony airport before planning their next move. The team spends the vast majority of its time searching for sealers. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

But like so many aspects of the hunt, that’s open to interpretation depending on your perspective.

In the past couple years, the hunt has been at a low ebb. The total value of the pelts harvested in 2011 was a meagre 0.1 per cent of the worth of the overall fishery.

Things may be on an upswing, though. As of press time, according to DFO more than 47,000 seals have been taken. That’s already an improvement over 2011, when 37,839 animals were harvested.

But pelt prices are way down from the 2006 high of $105 apiece. This year, a top quality pelt sells for around $27.

Earlier this year, the provincial government extended a $3.6-million loan to seal pelt processor Carino — an amount nearly five times the total value of seal pelts harvested in 2011, according to provincial government statistics.

Fisheries Minister Darin King says it’s the government against the animal rights activists, and in recent years the government hasn’t been winning.

“We’re fighting a huge PR war, there’s no question about it,” he said.

“There’s not enough money in government today to combat that, I don’t think. I don’t think we’re winning the fight, because if we were winning it, I don’t think we’d have the challenges we have today. But I think, on balance, we’re doing a better job of educating people and convincing people, say, than a year or two ago.”

King, and his federal counterpart, Keith Ashfield, both say they believe the industry will rebound.

In fisheries terms, the resource — roughly nine million harp seals — is just too large to walk away from. Even if the future isn’t in seal skin products, the potential for harvesting tonnes of meat and seal oil is tantalizing.

Both Ashfield and King also talk about the impact those animals have on the ecosystem.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of seals that are in our oceans on the East Coast, nine to 10 million seals and they, in turn, are having an impact on our fish stocks,” Ashfield says.

But if the industry doesn’t rebound, it seems possible the controversy surrounding it could fade in the coming years.

Sending a plane and a helicopter was worth it for the IFAW back in 2005 and 2006 when there were hundreds of thousands of seals being slaughtered, but in the past couple of years they’ve only been able to find a few hunters harvesting relatively few animals.

“Each year we re-evaluate,” Fink says.

“What are the objectives? What do we need the footage for? And we kind of weigh the costs and the benefits.”

Still, she says she’s not ready to walk away from the anti-sealing campaign just yet.

But the tenor of the debate seems to be changing. In recent weeks, King has had what he calls “very positive” meetings with both the IFAW and the Humane Society International.

Both groups are pushing for government buyouts of seal licences to end the hunt once and for all.

“One piece of me thinks that for everything they’ve done and all the successes they claim, that they may be coming to a realization that they’re never going to win unless they buddy up with industry, “ King says.

“Because we are at lower levels than we’ve been, which they declare as a victory. And if it’s a victory, why do you need to do a buyout?”

It may be a while before there’s any sort of buddy relationship between seal harvesters and animal rights activists, though.

There’s still an animosity among sealers from the heated fights of years ago.

Jack Troake of Twillingate says he’s surprised no one has ever shot at an IFAW chopper when it’s hovering over sealers at work.

“You could class these groups as terrorists — moderate terrorists — it’s as simple as that,” Troake says.

“You know, I’ve had calls in the middle of the night (saying they’re) going to come beat my brains out with a hakapik, going to burn my house down and barbecue my wife and kids.”

But after more than 50 years of harvesting seals, 76-year-old Troake is winding things down and hasn’t been out to the ice in the past couple of years.

He says he doesn’t miss it.

“That’s something that I didn’t enjoy doing; I went at it to put food on my table and keep my roof from leaking,” Troake says.

“Any man that gets any enjoyment out of anything like that — killing anything, you know — as far as I’m concerned, he’s a dangerous human being.”

When he hears about the two hunters hunkered down with sandwiches when the IFAW helicopter was overhead, Troake says it’s likely they deliberately took their lunch break when they heard the chopper.

When he was sealing, they’d always stop working when they heard a helicopter, he says.

“We don’t cater to these bastards, we just shut everything down and go below,” he recalled.

“You know, drop our pants and tell them to kiss our ass, then go get a cup of tea.”


Twitter: TelegramJames



Hunting for the hunters

Published on April 21, 2012
James McLeod

First in a two-part series

Sealing vessel in Gulf of St. Lawrence - Photo by James McLeod - The Telegram
A sealing vessel moves along the edge of an icefield in the Gulf of St. Lawrence searching for animals to hunt. This photo was taken from a helicopter chartered by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The IFAW sends a crew to Newfoundland every year to document the seal harvest as part of its campaign to end Canada's commercial seal hunt. - Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

The sun is blindingly bright early Saturday morning in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Sheryl Fink is hunting for sealers.

Fink is director of the sealing campaign for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and aboard a chartered helicopter, she's looking for seal hunters.

After leaving Deer Lake around 7 a.m., the chopper flew low over Gros Morne before turning west, out into the Gulf. The sealers don't tell the anti-sealing activists where they're going, which means Fink and her compatriots spend more time searching for hunters than anything else.

The chopper is armed with a gyroscopically stabilized omnidirectional Cineflex camera which lets the operator scan the ice floes for up to 15 kilometres in any direction.

In addition to the helicopter, the IFAW hires a twin-engine plane that can fly faster and farther, scanning for boats. They use their iPhones to text back and forth.

Fink is also in contact with Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of the Humane Society International, who's in another helicopter.

Right now, though, both the plane and Aldworth are on the northeast coast, so we're on our own.

Armed with ice charts, Fink and her camera operator scan the ice for seals. Mostly, they just find shadows.

"They're either chunks of ice shaped like boats, or pools of water shaped like seals," Fink says.

Sealer retrieves harp seal pup - photo IFAW
A sealer in the Gulf of St. Lawrence retrieves an animal that he previously shot. This was the only kill the IFAW documented in a day's worth of searching for hunters. - Photo courtesy of IFAW

After about an hour of searching, they get lucky.

It looks like just a red speck on the LCD display in the back seat of the helicopter, but it's a boat, weaving slowly through the ice pans.

The chopper approaches, but according to DFO regulations it has to stay at least 1,000 feet away. As the chopper circles, Fink and cameraman Stewart Cook pore over their screens. Given the 48x magnification, they can see a lot more detail than they ever could just looking out a window.

The back of the boat is red with blood. There's also a blood stain on the roof of the wheelhouse - the hunter keeps climbing up with a pair of binoculars to get a better vantage.

"He's got blood on him," Fink observes.

The hunter has his gun out. The camera misses the kill, but follows the direction he's pointing in, to a seal that isn't moving.

As the boat approaches, the hunter hops out, hits the seal with a gaff to confirm the kill, hooks it and drags it back to the vessel.

Back on the boat, he expertly skins the animal and tosses the carcass into the water.

Then he takes a smoke break.

IFAW filming search for sealers - photo by James McLeod - The Telegram
Photographer Stewart Cook (right) shoots a video of IFAW seal campaign director Sheryl Fink. The videos will be posted on the IFAW website, and distributed in the hopes to further the organization's goal of ending Canada's commercial seal hunt. - Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

This isn't what Fink and her crew are looking for. The kill is grisly, but it's by the book. They're hoping to document violations and inhumane activity.

"It was legal," Fink concedes. "He looks like a nice guy. Old-timer."

From above, there are no more seals anywhere within sight. The boat below steams through the ice, and after a minute or two, the helicopter moves on.

There's no more action to see here.


The IFAW spent more than $760,000 on its campaign to end Canada's commercial seal hunt in 2009, according to tax records - the most recent year available on their website.

In the same year, according to the provincial government, the seal hunt was worth $857,000.

The overwhelming majority of the money spent by the IFAW goes to the helicopter, the plane and the staff, to observe the hunt and collect the all-important footage of seals being slaughtered on sea ice.

Fink says that the video footage provides "direct evidence" of what the killing looks like on the ice.

"As you know, the government says the hunt is humane and it's well-regulated, and they've got their talking points. Filming the hunt gives us the evidence to say, 'No, that's not true.'

"In the past few years, the video evidence taken by both us and Humane Society International, I think, has played an important role in getting the European Union to ban the import and trade of seal products."

But while members of the IFAW present their video evidence as irrefutable, there are plenty of seal industry advocates lined up to question it.

Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield dismisses the anti-sealing campaign as "pure misinformation."

Pierre-Yves Daoust, a professor of anatomic pathology and wildlife pathology at the University of Prince Edward Island, says the IFAW videos lack scientific rigour and objectivity.

"It's insufficient to go by helicopter and follow some of the sealing vessels in the hope that they will break the rules or that they will have a miss, and then you can show examples of an animal that is not dead right away," Daoust says.

"Yes, in five per cent of the cases the animal did not die as quickly as it should have and there was an issue there. OK, five per cent of the animals. You can compare that with a number of slaughterhouses which can vary between zero and 10 per cent when the animals are not killed properly. You can compare it to hunting waterfowl, hunting deer, hunting antelopes in Africa."

Fink acknowledges that they do "take the (kills) that cause the most concern and put those together."

One consistent criticism of the IFAW and its ilk by seal hunt advocates is that they are only using the footage and the opposition to the hunt to raise money.

"It's one of the most enforced and regulated hunts of its kind in the world, and they're here undermining that and forwarding their own agenda which is to fill their bank accounts, to keep their high salaries, to keep their residence and their travel," says Frank Pinhorn, president of the Canadian Sealers' Association.

"That's their main goal."

Fink dismisses that idea completely, saying they also conduct campaigns on endangered tigers, elephants and Japanese whaling.

"There's this perception, I think, that seals is our bread and butter, and it's the only reason IFAW survives, and that's absolutely not the case," she says.

"It's our founding campaign, it's something we're committed to, but it's just one of a number of issues that we work on around the world."


It's late afternoon, and about 30 or 40 kilometres northeast of Fogo Island, the chopper sets down on a piece of "possibly landable ice."

The pan is five or six metres across and the helicopter never actually lands. The pilot just comes down until the skids are touching the ice, and then he keeps the rotors going at full speed while Fink and Cook and this reporter scurry out.

Three or four ice pans away, there's an adult harp seal basking - one of only a few dozen animals Fink and her crew have spotted all day.

With the animal over her shoulder in the background, Fink attaches a microphone to the lapel of her survival suit and proceeds to try to make a video.

"I'm actually quite relieved that we didn't see very much seal hunting going on today - we only saw a couple boats out, pretty small boats, much smaller than we've seen in other years," she says.

"It appears that the commercial seal hunt as we once knew it just isn't happening this year."

The helicopter hovers overhead.

Cook reminds her that there's a seal directly behind her, so she probably shouldn't say she hasn't seen very many seals.

"We've landed on an ice pan where we've found a couple of adult seals in the area, but other than that, we haven't really seen very many seals at all. We haven't seen any pups. It's a very different situation out here," she says.

"This is the way I like to see it. I like to be here on the ice with the seals, this is the way it should be. It's peaceful, it's quiet, and I feel good knowing that the seals might be safe this year."

Cook bursts out laughing.

"It's quiet? There's a f---ing helicopter going above!"

They try again, and after another couple of flubbed takes, Fink tries the direct approach.

"Please help IFAW to protect seals like the one here behind me. Visit IFAW.org to learn how you can help."

jmcleod@thetelegram.com Twitter: TelegramJames

Monday: Neither side ready to call it quits



Seal hunt too risky for larger vessels

Sealer - Vernon Lavers of Newfoundland
Vernon Lavers on the seal hunt: 'It's in your blood.' (CBC )

CBC News
Posted: Apr 12, 2012 12:43 PM NT

The seal hunt is underway in the northern area of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, although fishermen with larger vessels says markets are too small to justify the expense of even heading out.

So far, the vessels heading out from Newfoundland's west coast are smaller members of the local fleet.

"For us to be at it, we got to have better markets than what it is," said Dwight Spence, a veteran Port au Choix fisherman who operates a 65-foot vessel. Spence said he would need to be able to take in at least 2,000 pelts to make a profit.

By contrast, Vernon Lavers, who has headed out to the Gulf for a week aboard his 35-footer with a crew of three, said he needs to take in just 500 seals to make the trip worthwhile.

Sealer hoisting 90 seal pup carcasses - photo CBC 2012
Sealer hoists about 90 seal pup carcasses from story by CBC reporter Doug Greer. 2012.

"It's like anything — it's a gamble, I suppose," Lavers said.

"You got to take a chance on it, and hopefully it works out for the best."

Boycotts and closed borders have radically cut international demand for seal products.

Lavers said the seal hunt remains a vocation, though, and a way to earn cash while gearing up for primary fisheries.

"It's in your blood," he told CBC News. "It's a chance for a little bit of income for us while we're waiting for other fisheries to start."

With files from Doug Greer


Seal hunt off N.L. slated to start April 12

Sealer ties up dead grey seals - Paul Darrow - Reuters

Seal hunters tie ropes to a row of dead grey seal carcasses for transporting to their boats during the first day of the hunt on Hay Island, Nova Scotia, last year. Photograph by: Paul Darrow , REUTERS

March, 29, 2012
Postmedia News

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has set April 12 as the tentative opening day for Newfoundland and Labrador's spring seal-hunting season.

Prior to their Thursday meeting with the Canadian Sealers Association, the opening of "The Front" — the main seal hunting grounds off the eastern coast of Newfoundland — had been a topic of concern as no meeting had been set to discuss the grounds opening.

Frank Pinhorn, executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association, said there was "not a bit of trouble" at the meeting, and the grounds will open as of April 12, pending weather and ice conditions.

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News



Animal groups decry seal hunt quota

By Allen Rollin
QMI Agency
Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Grey seals - Paul Darrow - Reuters
A grey seal mother and pup lie on the snow as sealing boats arrive during the first day of the hunt on Hay Island, Nova Scotia, February 24, 2011. REUTERS/Paul Darrow

MONCTON, N.B. - Animal welfare goups are outraged after the federal government announced this week a 400,000 pelt quota for this year's seal hunt, set to begin Monday.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said its research shows the seal population on the east coast continues to explode, justifying the number.

"The harp seal population is currently estimated at just under 8 million animals. This is almost four times what it was in the 1970s," said department spokeswoman Melanie Carkner.

Animal activists disagree with not only the government's numbers, but also the approach to exploit what is seen as a dying market.

"Markets for seal products are disappearing, and seals need protection from threats like climate change more than ever, but Canada's department of fisheries and oceans is ignoring its own scientific advice," said Sheryl Fink of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Last spring, sealers only harvested 38,000 seals, less than 10% of the allowable catch.

The industry has been hit hard in the past few years by the closing of markets in the European Union and most recently Russia.

In 2011, there were approximately 14,000 commercial licences issued to sealers, but only an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 of those were active.



Fisheries Department sets seal quota

Published on March 20, 2012

Sealing - photo - IFAW-Cook
One of two men in a smaller boat takes aim at a seal during the 2011 commercial seal hunt off Newfoundland and Labrador.

Halifax (CP) — The Fisheries Department has set the annual harp seal quota amid criticism that the allowance is too high at a time when markets for the product are drying up.

The department’s website today listed the total allowable catch for harp seals at 400,000, which is the same as last year and includes a 20,000 developmental quota.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare is condemning the decision, saying it flies in the face of proper fisheries management.

In a release, the group says scientists have warned that the harp seal population is declining while the productivity of the species also decreases.

It says international markets for seal products have dwindled after the European Union and Russia shut the door on them.

The total allowable catch for harp seals was 330,000 in 2010 and 280,000 in 2009, according to the Fisheries Department website.



Gulf grey seal hunt a bust

CBC News

Posted: Mar 15, 2012 7:46 AM NT

An extremely small number of grey seals were killed during the annual hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this year.

Sealers said no animals were killed on Hay Island, off Cape Breton, during a hunt that has harvested more than 1,000 animals in past years, and about eight grey seals were killed in the Gulf area.

“There wasn’t a hunt this year ... some animals were taken for food but that’s all the animals that were harvested this year,” said Robert Courtney, who represents sealers in Nova Scotia. “Some years we have taken up to 1,500 animals out of that [Hay Island] area.”

Europe and Russia have banned seal imports and there's still no word on a trade deal with China that's been in limbo for more than a year.

““Even though the market's there and people want the product, the border ain't open so we can't get the product into the marketplace,” Courtney said.

Eastern Canada’s annual harp seal hunt is supposed to start this month, but that's up in the air, too.

And the Canadian Sealers' Association says the silence from Ottawa is deafening.

In recent years, the harp seal hunt has yielded up to 80,000 animals.



Eight seals killed in this year’s hunt

Published on March 12, 2012
Chris Hayes
Cape Breton Post

Spokesperson Michèle Bernier said only one group of sealers went out on a hunt that took place within a group of seven seal management areas.

Fisheries and Oceans didn’t identify the seal hunters, or say exactly where they went.

Robert Courtney, a spokesman for another group of sealers that was hoping to hunt on Henry Island off the coast of Cape Breton near Port Hood, said ice and weather conditions kept them ashore.

“The ice was in (and) we couldn’t get out to the island with the boat,” he said Monday. “And it wasn’t strong enough to get out on.

“We thought we might do it, it looked pretty good for a little while but the wind didn’t move the ice the right way so we couldn’t get there.”

Courtney had said the sealers had a local market for seal meat, flippers, hearts and livers.

A grey seal hunt on Hay Island off the coast of Cape Breton near Main-a-Dieu was also a non-starter this year.

Sealers have been hoping to sell grey seal meat in China but a proposed trade agreement opening the door for the export of Canadian seal products hasn’t happened.

There are markets in China for grey seal products but the government won’t open its borders, Courtney said.

Courtney hopes the Canadian government will do more to remove barriers in China to the products.

“Hopefully, they can get it all worked out over the year, and next year will be a better year.”

The sealers still have their boat in the water and could yet head out on a harp seal hunt, he said.

The North of Smokey/Inverness South Fishermen’s Association, which Courtney represents, has a quota of 5,000 harp seals a year in each year from 2011 to 2015, although they didn’t go out last year because of poor ice conditions.

Courtney said earlier this year markets for harp seals appeared to be limited and not very prosperous.

The Humane Society International/Canada had been standing by to document the grey seal hunt as part of its international fight to end it.

Spokeswoman Rebecca Aldworth wasn’t aware Monday that sealers had taken any grey seals this year. The group that did go out may have been on what is deemed a personal-use hunt that the humane society would not have been informed about, she said. Bernier said the group was on a commercial hunt, however.

Aldworth said the group is ready to return to Cape Breton to oppose any harp seal hunt that could take place but it looks like the ice conditions won’t support a commercial hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this year.

“The other issue is markets, and from what all of the sealing representatives have been saying, this year no one is indicating they are buying seal skins and if they are, for how much. And that certainly is causing the sealing industry to question whether the seal hunt is viable at all this year,” she said.




Shrinking demand, bans leave seal hunt in limbo

CTVNews.ca Staff
Mon., Mar. 5, 2012 8:26 AM ET

Sealer approaches seal
A hunter heads towards a harp seal during the annual East Coast seal hunt in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence around Quebec's Iles de la Madeleine, March 25, 2009. (Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Seal hunters on the East Coast have started preparing for this year's spring hunt, but a narrowing market for pelts exacerbated by international bans has some wondering if the annual practice is going to happen at all.

"Right now we're in a situation where we don't have very many markets," said Jim Winter, president of the Canadian Sealers Association.

The nation's sealing industry was dealt a sharp blow last year when Russia, a significant buyer, joined the European Union in banning commercial seal products from Canada.

Now, with weeks to go before hunters plan to launch their boats off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, Winter said he's concerned that the lucrative practice is in a state of limbo.

"It's a question of economics," he told CTV's Canada AM on Monday. "If there is no market, no buyers, there's not much point in taking the seals."

Jim Winters - CSA
Jim Winters, President of Canadian Sealers Association

Before a hunter heads out to The Front, the name many use when referring to the N.L. hunt, preparations must be made; boats must be readied, risks must be weighed. But if there's no demand for pelts, Winter said he feels less inclined to participate in the hunt.

"Everybody's looking at it and saying, ‘Well I'm not going to go if I can't make money' because that's what it boils down to," he said in an interview from St. John's, N.L.

According to the federal Fisheries Department, up to 90 per cent of Canada's exports of harp seal pelts have been shipped to Russia in previous years.

This isn't, however, the first time the market for Canada's seal pelts has shrunk. The EU banned the import of seal products in 2010, a contentious move. The U.S. banned the import of seal products in 1972.

While the actions of international buyers have hurt the industry, Winter said the effects of seal product bans have devastating consequences for Canada's northern population.

"They have less options than we do," said Winter, who added that the EU product ban was particularly difficult for Nunavut.

The quota for this year's seal hunt hasn't been set yet but Winter noted that there will still be a number of seals killed, despite decreased demand.

"Some of the buyers might be taking small numbers," he said. "The numbers will be vastly reduced and the number of participants will be vastly reduced."



Dead seals no reason for alarm, says Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Published on March 4, 2012
Chris Shannon
Cape Breton Post

SYDNEY — The discovery of more than 400 dead grey seals off Cape Breton’s eastern coastline is no reason for alarm, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said Sunday.

The seal carcasses, some without eyes from scavenging seagulls and other wildlife, are on the beaches of Hay Island, a short distance from Scatarie Island.

Federal fisheries department seal biologist Mike Hammill said the mammals showed no sign of physical trauma other than the wounds inflicted by predators after death.

“They weren’t killed by people, so it’s something else that’s come along,” he said from Charlottetown following a tour of the island Sunday.

“The majority of them are weaned pups and they look in fairly good shape. They’re fat, didn’t seem to have any external markings on them.”

Parts of the seals were taken for testing to the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown. Hammill said it could be weeks before a possible cause of death is identified.

The group of DFO scientists counted about 100 to 200 live adults and about a dozen juvenile seals.

Hammill confirmed the approximate number of dead seals that was initially reported by Humane Society International/Canada on Friday.

In a release, the group’s executive director Rebecca Aldworth said she hadn’t seen “this kind of mortality” in apparently healthy grey seals in her five trips to the island’s seal colony.

The estimated number of dead seals grew from approximately 100 that were counted by Aldworth early last week.

She said the grey seal hunt should be halted until the cause of death is known and scientists can work out the possible implications that lie ahead for the herd. Viruses can run through a population of seals quickly, she said.

The one bright spot, Aldworth added, was that the hunt was unlikely to go ahead this year because most of the young seals have moved away from shore.

“Normally about this time there is no opportunity for the sealers to go out to kill the seals simply because the pups are now swimming and have moved away from the island.”

Hammill said farther south off Canso there were no signs of an unusual number of dead seals.

“We should keep our eyes out but there’s no concern for anything,” he said.

“For the moment it’s just something that’s limited to this colony and it may not be a big deal at least at this stage.”

Robert Courtney, a spokesman for seal hunters, offered no comment when reached on Sunday about the likelihood of a grey seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this year.




Seal hunt off Newfoundland 'in a state of limbo'

Posted: Mar 2, 2012 7:15 AM NT
CBC News

seals on thin ice patches
Sealers are unsure about market conditions as the largest phase of the annual hunt looms. (Mike Hammill)

Apprehension is mounting as the opening looms for the largest part of the Canadian seal hunt, with fishermen saying there are few signs of what processors will be prepared to buy or pay.

"We're pretty much in a state of limbo here now," said Eldred Woodford, president of the Canadian Sealers Association.

The hunt on The Front - the traditional name given to the seal hunt off Newfoundland's northeast coast, and near southern Labrador - is set to start in a few weeks.

However, Woodford said there have been no indications about how many seals buyers will take this year, or how much they're willing to pay.

"Normally, we've got a fairly good idea on the volume the processors are looking for and a price at this time of the year, but there's so many uncertainties in the industry that we're pretty much out in the cold," Woodford told CBC News.

Woodford said sealers are reluctant to buy supplies because they don't know if the hunt will be worth their while.

Like recent years, the hunt this year will be a challenge. Markets in Europe have been devastated by a ban on imports, and some countries that had continued to buy seal products, notably Russia, have joined the ban.

In January, Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Minister Darin King said government was considering buying pelts for a stockpile that would be sold off if and when markets improve.


Sealers waiting on weather, ice conditions

Published on March 1, 2012
Cape Breton Post

SYDNEY — Weather and ice conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence will dictate when sealers begin the annual grey seal hunt.

Robert Courtney, a spokesman for the sealers, said his group is being watched closely by animal activists determined to observe and film the harvesting of seals.

Courtney said the sealers could leave shore from an unspecified area at any time of day. Right now, the sealers are waiting for the ice to move, he said.

The Fisheries department said in an email Wednesday the sealers identify the general area where they plan to go.

“It will be somewhere in the gulf between Cape North and the New Brunswick border,” Courtney said Thursday.

The sealers have a local market for seal meat, flippers, hearts and livers. They will also prepare any pelts for possible sale.

Courtney said the boats could “possibly” leave from Port Hood.

Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society International/Canada has been standing by in Cape Breton ready to film the seal hunt.

She said she believes they will go to Henry Island, off Port Hood, where grey seals have been hunted in the past.



Seal hunters, animal welfare activists gear up for annual Gulf of St. Lawrence hunt

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 9:15 AM
The Canadian Press

grey seal - photo Andrew Vaughan
In this file photo, a female grey seal moves over thin ice near the shore in Canso, N.S. on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005. Photo Credit: Andrew Vaughan, The Canadian Press

Seal hunters in Cape Breton are preparing to head to the Gulf of St. Lawrence to begin their annual hunt for grey seals - but they won't say where or when they are going.

Animal welfare activists say they are ready, too.

Rebecca Aldworth of Humane Society International says her group is standing by in Cape Breton, ready to film the hunt as part of the group's campaign to end it.

But she says finding the sealers could be difficult.

The annual harvest takes in a large area that includes Henry Island off Port Hood, as well as Margaree Island and coastal areas of Cape Breton.

Despite a shrinking global market for seal pelts, Cape Breton sealer Robert Courtney says there's a local market for seal meat, flippers, hearts and livers.

© Shaw Media Inc., 2012. All rights reserved.



Sealers keeping eye on ice, markets

Published on February 20, 2012
Chris Hayes
Cape Breton Post

SYDNEY — A Cape Breton fishermen’s association will be watching ice conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and markets around the world while deciding whether to hunt for harp seals this year.

The North of Smokey/Inverness South Fishermen’s Association has a quota of 5,000 harp seals a year in each year from 2011 to 2015, but didn’t go out last year because of poor ice conditions.

Spokesman Robert Courtney said Monday ice conditions don’t appear to be very promising so far this year, although it would be difficult to accurately predict ice conditions for the latter part of March or later when the harp seal hunt is underway. Courtney said he has heard so far there is a limited market that is not very “prosperous” right now.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

“The boats are still in the water, the hunters are ready to go and we could go within one day. If we decide we are going, we are gone, but the thing is we have nothing at this time for markets.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has approved a developmental quota that was sought by the fishermen’s group to see if it could entice a processor to Cape Breton that could also handle grey seal pelts and products.

This year’s quota for the harp seal hunt off Canada’s east coast hasn’t yet been set. Last year, the quota was set at 400,000 animals, but federal officials said only about 38,000 were killed. The slump was blamed on shrinking world markets and poor ice conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the north coast of Newfoundland, where the seals need large ice pans to give birth to their young.

The federal government meanwhile confirmed in December that the world’s largest buyer of Canadian seal products — the Russian federation — banned importing harp seal pelts. The European Union banned importing seal products in 2010, and the federal government has failed to deliver on a promise to open the Chinese market to Canadian seal meat, including grey seals.

Last month, Courtney said a grey seal hunt on Hay Island off Cape Breton is looking doubtful this year because of a lack of markets.

Sealers have a short window of opportunity for the Hay Island hunt, which is determined by how long seal pups born on the rocky shoreline remain there, and that window is closing, said Courtney.

Fisheries and Oceans says on its website the majority of harp sealing occurs between late March and mid-May, beginning around the third week in March in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, and about the second week in April off Newfoundland in an area known as the Front.

The timing of harvest activities in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence depends largely on the movement of ice floes on which seals are located. The peak commercial harvest in this area is in early April, according to the department.




Canada's harp seals in spotlight of debate

Science News

Published: Feb. 3, 2012 at 3:52 PM

OTTAWA, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- The number of harp seals off Canada's east coast is increasing but may have peaked, marking the start of a possible decline in the population, officials say.

Population figures released Thursday by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will determine how many of the animals the government will allow sealers to catch in the country's annual seal hunt, Postmedia News reported.

Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield said the total allowable catch for harp seals will likely remain the same as last year's, meaning sealers will be allowed to catch as many as 400,000.

Sealers in eastern Canada say the financial future of the seal hunt is under threat following European Union and Russian bans on the import of Canadian seal products.

Russia had been the largest market for seal products, purchasing as much as 95 percent of Canadian seal product exports.

Animal activists say these two bans could mean the end of the East Coast's commercial seal hunt.


Seal hunt doubtful this year

Published on January 30, 2012

Chris Hayes
Cape Breton Post

SYDNEY — A grey seal hunt on Hay Island off Cape Breton is looking doubtful this year because of a lack of markets, says a spokesman for the sealers.

Sealer kills grey seal
In this file photo, a sealer who participated in a low-calibre rifle experiment on Hay Island last year bleeds a pair of seals shortly after they were shot in the head.

Topics : Northeast Coast Sealers Co , Canadian Food Inspection Agency , Canadian Press , China , Cape Breton , Hay Island
Robert Courtney said Monday the Cape Breton sealers were hoping to see markets for grey seal meat in China but a proposed trade agreement opening the door for the export of Canadian seal products hasn’t happened.

“It don’t look good without the meat market,” said Courtney, president of the North of Smokey/Inverness South Fishermen’s Association.

“The people in China want it but the border isn’t open and we can’t get it there.”

Last January, then-Fisheries Minister Gail Shea announced from Beijing that she had landed a trade agreement to sell Canadian seal meat in China, but bureaucrats with Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have confirmed the Chinese have yet to sign off on the agreement, the Canadian Press reported in November. Frank Pinhorn, executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association, said at the time Fisheries and Oceans may have promised too much, too soon but he’s confident a final deal is in the works.

Courtney said he had discussed possible markets for the grey seals with last year’s buyer, the Northeast Coast Sealers Co-operative in Newfoundland.

He said there isn’t much time for any upswing in his potential markets since the Hay Island hunt usually begins and ends over a short period of time in February.

“I doubt there will be anything,” he said.

Last February, the sealers hunted about 80 animals out of an allowable allocation of 1,900 on Hay Island. A group of Cape Breton sealers also hunted 115 grey seals on Henry Island and Saddle Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Courtney expected to know more after an Atlantic sealers advisory meeting Feb. 13-14 in Halifax.

Shannon Lewis, executive director of the Northeast Coast Sealers Co-operative, said it’s a bit early to say for sure, but by the time it figures out its purchase plans for this year, it will probably be too late to participate in the grey seal harvest, which is usually ahead of other seal hunts in Atlantic Canada.

Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society International/Canada, which has travelled to Hay Island to document and oppose the hunt, said it is clear people in China are against becoming a dumping ground for seal products the rest of the world doesn’t want to buy.

Aldworth said there are also concerns the way seal carcasses are processed doesn’t meet standards in China for food processing.

She hoped to see Ottawa buy up the licences of sealers.

“I think, frankly, the grey seal hunt has been over for many years,” she said.

Aldworth said she has heard that there is a rumour there may still be a buyer for the grey seal products.

“I wouldn’t necessarily bank on it not going ahead,” she said. “We are prepared for it to go ahead, and we will be there if it does.”

Hay Island is a rocky landscape that is part of the Scatarie Island Wilderness Area off Cape Breton.

Fisheries and Oceans has set a total allowable catch for 2012 of 60,000 grey seals throughout the Atlantic region and a quota for Hay island of 1,900, saying both numbers are a rollover from last year.

The 2012 season start dates for sealing fleets will be determined through consultation with Fisheries and Oceans scientists, according to the website. The commercial juvenile grey seal hunt usually runs from early February until early March, mainly along the eastern shore of Nova Scotia and in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Courtney wondered what happened to a proposed large-scale cull of grey seals.

“That isn’t happening either because none of the people in Ottawa has stepped up to the plate to make it happen.”

He suggested weather conditions this winter look favourable to the survival of grey seal pups on Hay Island and without a hunt, the population is sure to increase.

The Fisheries Resource Conservation Council has recommended a grey seal cull in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence in which about 73,000 animals would be killed in the first year and another 70,000 over the next four years.



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