Newfoundland sealing videos
by Fred McMahon


The Moncton Times and Transcript, The Halifax Daily News

The war of the amateur videos has been joined. The Newfoundland government just released its video of the cod “killing fields” – to quote one senior government official – to combat videos from environmental groups showing cruelty to seals.

In the Newfoundland video, the camera slowly moves in on the scene of the massacre, finally exposing the viciously mutilated bodies of the innocent cod victims. Only the grieving relatives are missing. The culprits are known, the Serbs – errr, no, the Seals. This matches the home videos from environmental groups of the cruel seal massacres, where we see the pitiless, club-wielding, ice-hopping Tutsi’s – errr, no, Newfoundlanders.

(Actually, it would be a step forward to hear world leaders to express the same outrage about human atrocities that Newfoundland Fisheries Minister John Efford expresses about cod massacres and environmental groups about seal-torture.)

Now comes a marvelous new idea, seal birth control. Researchers at Dalhousie University have developed a vaccine that’ll stop seals from becoming preggers for a full year. Workers simply walk among the seals jabbing them with needles or plastic bullets – $10 to $15 dollars a pop – and bingo, no baby seals. The environmentalists will probably demand written consent from the seals.

Sadly, the debate over the impact of the increasing seal population on cod stocks is a debate between the delusional – an Alice-in-Wonderland World, where whatever the Red Queen says is “is”.

Good heavens, say the environmentalists, seals aren’t killing the cod – well, may one or two, but not more. What, one wonders, do the environmentalists think six million seals eat? Maybe they’re giant, well-disguised plants, happily photosynthesizing as they frolic on the ice; maybe, instead of bothering with messy cod, they order out to Capt. Billy’s Seafood Heaven for fish fillets; maybe they belong to that strange cult that believe eating is a bad habit we can do without.

Equally, many in Newfoundland believe our criminally irresponsible fishery didn’t kill the northern cod – well maybe one or two cod, but not more. The culprits were foreign fishers, or the seals, or the tooth fairy. What do folks think was going on with a fishery virtually three times larger in the late 1980s than in the early 1960s? What was happening with all those subsidies for new and better boats and for fish plants in any community that had seen a fish in the past 40 years? Perhaps, we used all this to catch more fish?

As is now tragically clear, our fishery had nothing to do with economic or environmental sanity or sustainable fish harvesting. It was all about harvesting votes with the best of all bait, other people’s money. Politicians had something better to give away than a bottle on election day. They gave away free money for just about anything.

Within the fishery, it was all about harvesting a much more lucrative species than cod; it was about netting government money. People responded to incentives politically corrupt politicians put in front of them through perverse programs. If someone offers you a free lunch, take it.

This did immense damage to the reputation of Atlantic fish. As more and more money came from government, and the product became less and less important for people in the industry, fish quality nose-dived. During the era of big government money, our exports were dominated by frozen fish blocks. Quality was so low, that was about the only thing we could sell.

We must understand the immense perversity of past policy if we are to avoid doing it all over, as Ottawa becomes flush with money again and as demands increase, as they already are, for a premature resumption of cod harvesting. Killing more seals won’t bring back the cod by Thursday.

Environmental groups need to understand simple facts. Seals eat fish. Cod are fish. Seals and cod live next by each. That leads to hostility, with cod on the losing side of the argument. For environmental groups, seals are environmentally important because they are cute. Fighting the seal harvest produces a money harvest.

Environmental groups did us a great service in exposing the cruel, indeed wicked, way some seal-harvesters attack the seals. The industry needs effective policing. But, properly done, the way seals are killed is a lot less cruel than what goes on in many slaughter houses every day. (I avoid certain types of meat because of the way the animals are treated and slaughtered.)

An increased seal cull will provide some new jobs and, almost certainly, speed cod recovery – by how much, no one knows – but we shouldn’t use that as cover for our sins. The best cure is to get politics out of the fishery and run it on sound economic and environmental principles. Anything else, simply victimizers future Atlantic Canadians, as surely as past perversities hurt today’s Atlantic Canadians.