Canadian Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan vowed to slaughter 320,000 seal pups next week and criticized activists for calling for a boycott Canadian seafood products.
Regan declared that the slaughter is needed to diminish seal populations. He acknowledged, however, that the annual slaughter is becoming a public relations nightmare for the government.
The seal slaughter, which this year starts on March 29th, takes place on ice floes off the Atlantic coast where the seals give birth. Regan insisted that the killing is humane despite overwhelming evidence that the animals suffer and many are skinned alive and die in agony.
The Fisheries Minister stated that the seal defenders were issuing "misleading rhetoric and sensational images that tell a selective, biased and often false story" about the hunt.
In his statement he said, "It is a real disgrace to have such negative light being cast on the Canadian men and women of this industry."
Responding to Regan's statement, Captain Paul Watson said, "The disgrace is that a government minister, a representative of the Crown, would lie about the seal slaughter and deny the facts. The cruel slaughter of seals is a national disgrace."
Regan said that the slaughter protects depleted fish stocks and provides jobs in the economically-depressed eastern province of Newfoundland. The province's cod fishery collapsed a decade ago and some fishermen say seals were partly to blame.
However, a recent Resolution by the United States Senate contradicts the Canadian claims. According to the U.S. Senate Resolution 33 from February 1st, 2005:
"...whereas the fishing and sealing industries in Canada continue to justify the expanded seal hunt on the grounds that the seals in the Northwest Atlantic are preventing the recovery of cod stocks, despite the lack of credible scientific evidence to support this claim; and whereas 2 Canadian Government scientists reported in 1994 that the true cause of cod depletion in the North Atlantic was over-fishing, and the consensus among the international scientific community is that seals are not responsible for the collapse of cod stocks; and whereas harp and hooded seals are a vital part of the complex eco-system of the Northwest Atlantic, and because the seals consume predators of commercial cod stocks, removing the seals might actually inhibit recovery of cod stocks; and whereas certain ministries of the Government of Canada have stated clearly that there is no evidence that killing seals will help groundfish stocks to recover; and whereas the persistence of this cruel and needless commercial hunt is inconsistent with the well-earned international reputation of Canada: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved that the Senate urges the Government of Canada to end the commercial hunt on seals..."
Defenders of the seals last week held protests in over 50 cities across the world, and vowed to move ahead with calls for an international boycott of Canadian seafood.
The Canadian fishing industry exports around CAD$3 billion (USD$2.5 billion) a year to the United States while the seal hunt generates just CAD$16.5 million a year, mostly from the sale of the pelts.
"We need to apply economic leverage. It is the only language the government understands. Canada must sustain commercial losses in the seafood industry that exceeds the relatively small profits of the sealing industry. Once losses overall exceed profits from sealing, this hunt will not be so popular with the Canadian government and with the Canadian fishing industry," said Captain Paul Watson from onboard the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat in Eastport, Maine.
The Farley Mowat departs for the seal slaughter this week.