Nova Scotia Grey Seal Hunt Update,
February 10, 2009
Nova Scotia has done another flip-flop
on the "Hay Island" grey seal hunt in a wilderness protected area. The
hunt was "approved" a few days ago by the Province, and today it was
unexpectedly called off by the industry (as also happened last year). The
industry is skittish over the "market" potential of the "pelts" while the
media have reported that the Province approved "a cull." What is the real
story here? If "pelts" from Hay Island are not marketable, are any seal
pelts at all marketable, and will there be any Canadian commercial seal
hunt at all this year? Or will there just be a "cull" or "predator
To state the obvious, if seal meat is
not truly destined for a commercial food stream (as the public has been
told for years that it is), then humane "culling" of seal pups can
realistically include the use of "chemical restraint" before slaughter -
i.e. knock them out with a tranquilizer dart, as we do with other
inconveniently located wild animals in this day and age...
Advice from GSCS to the Nova Scotia
February 6, 2009 (Ron
Chisholm's office received this letter by registered mail February 10,
The Honourable Ron Chisholm, Minister of
Fisheries and Aquaculture
1741 Brunswick St.
The Honourable David Morse, Minister of
P.O. Box 442
Re: Grey Seal
Conservation Society (GSCS) advice re: Grey Seal Hunt
(1)The hunt is not ecologically justifiable
(2)If meat is not marketable, “chemical
restraint” is recommended
Dear Mr. Chisholm and Mr. Morse,
predators provide valuable ecological services and their numbers are now
critically low. For this reason, the Grey Seal Conservation Society (GSCS)
strongly disapproves of the grey seal hunt recently opened in Nova Scotia.
GSCS reiterates its ecological argument against removing predators sent to
the Honourable Mark Parent one year ago.
Parent sent no reply, please now review and acknowledge our letter to him
(copy enclosed) and please send us the Province’s rationale for approving
the Hay Island seal hunt. We recommend there be no seal hunt. Our focus is
on environmental education and marine conservation, but we sometimes offer
practical advice to the fishing industry.
supports ecologically responsible seafood production and believes untapped
potential in this area still exists in Nova Scotia. We note, however, that
dead grey seals appear to have no real commercial value beyond the sale of
the pelts, and that this has practical implications for the industry.
industry’s “Grey Seal Research and Development Society” was abandoned
following GSCS’s 2006 report on seal
diseases. A recent anecdotal report from Cape Breton raises a concern
that infectious agents in grey seal meat may have already caused a costly
disease outbreak in farmed mink there, similar to what happened in Ontario
when east coast seal meat was fed to mink.
In a hunt
where seal carcasses are not destined for human or animal consumption,
“chemical restraint” can be used during the slaughter process. This is
because drug residues that would render seal meat unwholesome for
consumption will not affect the marketability of the pelts alone.
pups received a quick “tranquilizer dart” and “fell asleep” before
slaughter, this would be less stressful to the seals and less distressing
to the public than methods currently in use. Has the industry considered
this cheap and efficient option?
Province’s animal control officers should have the technical information
required for this. If not, through its directors the GSCS has some
professional expertise in handling wildlife, which we can make available
to the Province and the industry.
advice on killing seals from GSCS is offered of course “without prejudice”
to our previously stated disapproval of the ecological wisdom of the hunt
Enclosed: (1) letter to Mark
Parent dated February 17, 2008
(2) “Form 1” to Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (This is a
formal application plus $25 fee paid under Nova Scotia's Freedom of
Information and Protection of Privacy Act for access to records of all
commercial grey seal products marketed from the Nova Scotia grey seal hunt
since its inception in 2004. We requested records for each year indicating
the total numbers of pelts sold and the value of these sales, as well as
records of all meat and blubber/oil that has been sold, with a breakdown
between sales for human and animal consumption as food or seal oil.)
Below is the letter the Grey Seal Conservation Society
sent by registered mail last year, but that was ignored by the Honourable
Mark Parent. Printed copies of this letter were therefore printed and
included with the letters sent to The Honourable Ron Chisholm and the
Honourable David Morse at this time. When we receive the Province's
rationale for approving a seal hunt at Hay Island and the commercial sales
statistics on the grey seal hunt to date, we will post that information
Hay Island Grey Seal Hunt, 2008 sacrilege at
Province of Nova Scotia
has outdone even Canada's federal Department of Fisheries and
Oceans in bungling "conservation", in approving
a seal hunt in a protected wilderness area on
Hay Island.Nova Scotia knows it has
entered a legal “grey area” – fines under the
Wilderness Areas Protection Act, the law that has been broken, can
reach $500K per day for an individual and up to $1 Million a day for a
corporation. And the Crown can be held liable
under the law, i.e. for the actions of the
Cabinet Minister and the provincial government department that approved
the illegal seal hunt. Media reported that Environment Minister Mark
Parent had “some misgivings” about the decision, but that he relied on
legal advice. The illegal hunt of a few thousand seals on Hay
Island this winter is doubtless a prequel to a much larger illegal
slaughter of grey seals that the fishermen want to carry out in another
protected area, at
Sable Island. Below is my letter to Mark Parent, requesting his
written reasons for his decision and explaining the value of seals to such
Grey seal pups on Oak Island, February 2007.
Photo taken a couple of days before hundreds were killed in a
commercial seal hunt at this site.
The Honourable Mark Parent,
Nova Scotia Minister of
Environment and Labour
5151 Terminal Road
Halifax, N.S. B3J 2T8
On behalf of the
Grey Seal Conservation Society
(GSCS), I am
writing to express my extreme disappointment and disapproval of the grey
seal hunt at Hay Island, which is not only illegal and ecologically
irresponsible, but an embarassment
to the province of Nova Scotia.
What information did you use
as the basis of your decision to approve the hunt? I understand you were
asked to approve the seal hunt by Ron Chisholm,
provincial Fisheries minister. In a media release,
Mr. Chisholm claims he “looked carefully at all the available
information” and media reports explained that “fisheries staff gave
(Minister Parent) a detailed explanation of the need for the hunt.”
Mr. Chisholm explained that the reason his department made the request was
to “protect fish species in the Hay Island area.”
Media reports further suggest
that you relied on legal advice that you could permit the otherwise
illegal hunt if it was “for the responsible management, preservation or
restoration of indigenous biodiversity of a wilderness area.”
The Chronicle Herald reported that the detailed legal analysis considered
your possible “responsibility for the fish” that might swim in the
water that rises over the protected land at high tide, and that part of
the basis of your decision was “whether seals were eating the fish when
the tide was in and covering the land protected under the act.” Is
this imagined as a threat to the “biodiversity” of the wilderness area?
Mr. Parent, with all due
respect, that is ludicrous. The seals targeted by the hunt are recently
weaned, fasting and moulting, and not yet swimming babies. When these
young seals take to the sea, do government lawyers honestly worry that
they might return to the intertidal zone to eat fish? The truth is it
would do no harm
if they did. Why does Nova Scotia allow assessments with legal
implications to be completed and used as the basis for decisions without
eliciting or considering the opinions of properly recognized experts?
Did your review include an
assessment of the adequacy or accuracy of “all the available
information” that was considered by Mr. Chisholm? Did the material
submitted to you by Mr. Chisholm include the expert evidence on this same
issue that was recently obtained by the provincial
standing committee on resources? Dr. Boris Worm,
associate professor of marine conservation at Dalhousie University,
was recently invited by the committee to answer questions on the 'state
of the ocean'. Here are a few
snippets from the record of the
that must be "available" to the government:
"MR. WORM: "...seals today are actually not hindering the
recovery of cod but actually are good for the recovery of cod because they
are the only left predators...a lot of what we know is based on hypotheses
and generalizations and a very scant understanding of how marine
ecosystems are working. Now some people would turn this around and say, we
don't know anything so let's just go ahead. I would say we know little, so
let's make use of the little bit we know and be very, very careful about
every new step. That's where I see us failing a little bit because every
new step is not done more carefully than the step before.
MR. MUIR: A very interesting thing...back on one of the slides that you
spoke from very early, you said that the prevalence of seals was actually
helping the recovery of the cod stock.
MR. WORM: Potentially, yes...
MR. THERIAULT: Why do you think those haddock aren't growing well on
MR. WORM: That's a very interesting question...It's growing slower, it's
maturing earlier, it's more skinny, it's not as fat...
MR. THERIAULT: We get most of our knowledge from lobster from the United
States, from Maine. That's where we learn it from. Thank you. That's
enough from me.
MR. CHAIRMAN (John MacDonell): Enough from you, I'm glad we got that in
Hansard. (Laughter)...In the fishery I always feel handicapped, because
you can't really tell for sure what's going on and what's there. So I look
at this as kind of a trophic house of cards where you're pulling these
cards out and you can't be sure just which card is going to make the whole
thing collapse or whatever.
presentation by the Grey Seal Conservation Society,
and Mr. Theriault raised this issue of the haddock and them being smaller
and whatever. A position posed to us that day was the lack of nutrient in
the ocean ecosystem and we were given a presentation of photographs back
in the 1940s to present-day, where there were barnacles on the rocks in
the 1940s, but in the same location today there were none. Also this was
to make the case that the grey seals, even though they have an increase in
number, they have replaced this predator level that has been removed from
the oceans and they're actually putting nutrient back into the system...I
guess, at some point I would like to think that maybe my grandchildren
will say to me, there'll be a report that Nova Scotia's oceans or the
oceans of the world are far better than they were in 2007 and they'll say,
Grandpa, weren't you a politician in 2007, so what did you do or what
could you have done, or whatever. But I'd like it to be a positive story,
the fact that I was here...
MR. WORM: ...The second problem we're having in the ocean is that once
it's bust, we don't know how to bring it back, other than leave it alone...We
can't engineer recovery; that's the thing, we can't engineer it...
MR. BELLIVEAU: ...You said three words, "It's not too late." I seriously
believe that we were here, and I think somebody's going to look back in 50
years time and think that we had some input in getting this back in the
Rather than considering Dr.
Worm’s expert opinion
already available to
the provincial government, is it
possible thatthe provincial Minister of Fisheries
“in good faith” on opinions
from persons without
ecological credentials who told him “in good faith” what they believed
to be true? And did you as Minister
of Environment accept
this information pluslegal advice given to you “in good
faith”? Although possibly sincere,
this process does not
seem to be a very strenuous
truth-seeking exercise. At what
point does government
“accountability” enter into this?
A year ago, the provincial
Crown was reported to be prosecuting individuals for offences under the
Wilderness Areas Protection Act that arose from illegal seal hunting at
Hay Island. Might the Crown next have to defend itself against a
prosecution under the same law? Could the matter go to court as a civil
case, say, if some well-heeled seal hunt protester decided to finance a
(A few years ago, the
provincial departments of Justice and Community Services relied on
legal advice and ended
up landing the Crown in an expensive mess
– sorting out all the liability that arose from the mishandled allegations of institutional
abuse which was then compounded by violation of the
Charter rights of employees and former employees…that time, Nova
Scotia taxpayers ended up paying millions of dollars more that they needed
to have paid…because of errors made by the Crown, errors quite possibly
made in “good faith”…but I digress.)
Mr. Parent, the primary
objective of the
Wilderness Areas Protection Act is to “maintain and restore the
integrity of natural processes and biodiversity.” And that is the
primary reason you should not have approved the seal hunt.
A vital natural process that
sustains ocean island ecosystems is the movement of organic matter from
the sea to the land. This occurs as various forms of marine life are
washed up, crawl out, or are pulled out onto land, to be eaten by land
organisms and ultimately integrated into the soil, grass and forests of
Seabirds are an example of important players, bringing
fish onto the land to feed their young. The food they eat is cycled
through pathways that enrich the land. Without this natural process the
gradually poorer as rainfall and gravity erode organic reserves.
natural washout tendency, some ocean fish seem to virtually offer
themselves up for consumption by land animals. Two examples are capelin
and grunion, small fish that swim from the open ocean to the edge of the
surf by the millions to spawn. Their eggs and spent carcasses feed a host
of land animals, representing an important basis of soil building.
Grey seal pups remain on land for a few weeks after
they are weaned by their mothers. The white fur is lost then and
replaced by a dappled grey coat. During this period, the seals eat
no fish or hay, but their urine will serve to fertilize the grass.
Weaker pups die on land (hold mouse over the photo above), to be
eaten by various land animals and ultimately enrich the land
Fascinating research from the
Pacific coast of North America has recently shown how
ecosystems are now impoverished as a result of the loss of salmon runs
that always delivered tons of rich food high into the mountains via their
annual one-way spawning migrations.
Land based consumers from grizzly bears, eagles, foxes, numerous other
birds, mammals and insects, to the very trees in the forests themselves,
were found to have depended heavily on “marine derived nitrogen” delivered
by salmon. Scientists determined that the entire ecosystem is now relatively
impoverished by the loss of the salmon runs.
On Hay Island, the grey seal
whelping congregation delivers an annual pulse of food to the island’s
land ecosystem. Grey seals take no food from the land, however eagles,
and many others feast on the placentas from the births of seal pups, as
well as the carcasses of the 10% or more of grey seal pups who will die
naturally on land. If a surviving seal pup should later eat a fish in the intertidal
zone, does it then become reasonable for the Minister of the Environment
lawyers to launch an assault on the whole herd?
I don’t expect the fishermen
have considered that the seals enrich the natural ecosystem on the island,
and they honestly do not realize that seal pupping is an important natural
process that the Minister is charged with protecting. We have missed key
subtleties, which is why the cod stocks are not rebuilding. Rather than
“exploding” seal populations, it is more accurate to say we have
“imploding” fish populations, as the fish starve.
For the bulk of their
lives, when not on land, grey seals cycle nutrients in the sea in a
pattern that counteracts fish starvation.
As Dr. Worm and the law tell
us, animals in protected wilderness areas should be left alone. To
maintain vibrant life on Hay Island, there should never be a seal hunt
there. And on Nova Scotia's unique
Sable Island, the largest colony of grey seals in the world contributes to
the health of both the surrounding sea life and life on the island itself.
'Marine derived nitrogen' doubtless sustains the
famous Sable Island horses. Does the
Province next intend to authorize a seal hunt there?
Land dwellers owe a great
debt to sea animals, perhaps especially to those who have always
approached land on their own volition bearing gifts: the salmon, capelin,
seabirds, turtles and seals. In their manner of birthing their own kind,
these ocean species also benefit
life on land. Grey seals are some of these very special animals, virtual
‘goodwill ambassadors’ who occasionally emerge from the sea to enrich the
land. However, the direct enrichment of modern humans by seals should come
only from our awe in their presence, and our enjoyment of healthy land
ecosystems, and never from killing them and selling their pelts.
I realize fishermen do not want to hear this, but that does not affect the
truth of the matter.
I offer a final fact for your
consideration, although with no supporting science: The Atlantic grey seal
is the basis of the ancient Celtic myth of the ‘Selkies’…a
belief that includes a warning to
humans against killing grey seals because it brings bad luck.
Mr. Parent, I wish you had
held public consultations, and that you had listened to your own
misgivings before you approved the seal hunt on Hay Island. Are you
convinced that due process was carried out? Otherwise, this
decision might discredit the integrity of other contentious decisions made
by the Department of Environment and Labour, like
your recent decision to approve an open pit gold mine at Moose
River, Nova Scotia.
Please send me a copy of your
written decision to approve the seal hunt on Hay Island along
with the facts on
which your decision was based.
Not a mother and pup, but two grey seal pups after
their mothers have left the whelping area. At this point, the pups
seem to stick together, seeking the company of their own kind. The
pup at right is still alive, and it has begun to shed its white
coat, but this one is too small and weak to survive long. On ice at
the beach edge, this pup will likely be consumed by land animals
after death, playing its part in an important natural process
whereby sea animals fertilize and enrich the land.