Nobody said that the seal
hunt was cruel, and nobody complained that Canada kills
whitecoat pups, at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’
latest public consultation on seal hunting.
At the seal forum last
November, only one criticism was raised against the seal
hunt. It was argued that the seal hunt plan is unacceptable
because it is not "ecosystem-based," and DFO was reminded of
its legal obligation under the Oceans Act to use
ecosystem-based conservation plans.
A stable, healthy ocean
ecosystem needs large natural predators, and all other big
predators in Atlantic Canada, besides seals, have recently
been eliminated. Scientists accept these facts: This is in
reference to the huge numbers of large predatory fish that
long competed with seals to eat small fish.
Today, essentially all big
fish are gone, and rising seal numbers have not nearly made
up for the loss. To maintain a healthy natural predator
presence in the ocean, therefore, none of the relatively few
surviving fish predators should now be killed, and that
Natural predators play key
roles; and entire ecosystems, including the prey species, do
better when predators survive too. Eliminating large
predators degrades ecosystems, and this occurs everywhere
from forests to grasslands to oceans.
A mass harvest of seals
today carries a greater ecological risk to the ocean than it
did when great hordes of large predatory fish shared the
waters (cod, shark, halibut, etc.) and shared the seals’
The truth is that today’s
ocean scenario, both the potentialities and the risks, is
not remotely like it was in earlier times.
Now the web of sea life
appears strangely unstable, teetering. If we take the seals,
we remove the last natural predators from a once robust web.
What collapses then? The
platitude that seal hunting is a time-honoured "tradition"
Although seals and ice
floes may look exactly as they did in past centuries, what
lies beneath the surface has changed dramatically for the
The food supply for fish is
failing, and the oxygen content of seawater is falling, as
the ecosystem becomes increasingly poor and degraded. Under
this scenario, insisting on targeting the last surviving
natural fish predator courts ecological disaster.
The worst of it is that
there are DFO scientists who are aware of this problem, but
who are not permitted to speak openly about it.
These scientists were not
invited to "advise" the "seal managers." The managers wanted
"science advice" only on the size of the seal herds,
refusing to consider information about the state of the
ecosystem, including the now serious shortage of fish
When it was explained at
the seal forum that DFO scientists have published much
relevant ecosystem science, including a rationale for
protecting fish predators, and that this information should
logically translate into advice that managers not approve
another seal hunt – the reply was silence.
But outside the forum, a
DFO official remarked that nobody reads those ecosystem
DFO managers were formally
asked to consider science advice from their own scientists,
regarding how modern ecosystem objectives should be used in
planning the seal hunt. But they refused, claiming this was
Amid hyperbole about
"science on the cutting edge" and "international
leadership," DFO boasts of using a new "ecosystem approach"
to ocean conservation.
But they are not, because
the new seal hunt plan is, like all previous ones, based
only on an outmoded "single-species approach."
This method was long used
by fishery managers: Numbers of fish or seals were estimated
and then some fraction was declared as the quota for a
"sustainable fishery." However, this simple strategy has
failed spectacularly – think: cod crash.
Science today knows a
better way, but DFO refuses to admit it.
DFO was likely pleased to
see animal rights groups again denouncing this spring’s harp
seal hunt as brutal. That was their cue to launch the
standard rebuttal: "The seal hunt is humane! We have
scientific proof of that! And we don’t kill whitecoat pups!"
OK, sure DFO, we’ve heard
all that before. Now please explain why you refuse to meet
your obligation to safeguard the future of Canada’s marine
life by using modern scientific methods, by meeting your
legal obligation to Canadians to use an ecosystem-based
approach to conservation.
Why do you refuse to listen
even to your own scientists?
Why, after the disastrous
losses of marine life over the last two decades, does Canada
still have government science muzzled by the fishing
Debbie MacKenzie, of
Prospect, is a director of the Grey Seal Conservation
For more information on
DFO's seal forum 2005, see: Seal