For years, Sea Shepherd's President and Founder Captain Paul Watson has been condemning the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans as the most incompetent government agency in the history of Canada.
This gross incompetence led to the total collapse of the East Coast cod fishery and the disastrous state of the Pacific salmon fishery. And, of course, the Canadian government's mismanagement of the annual seal slaughter is the hallmark of this department's incompetence
For a decade we have been hearing Canadian government officials including the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans declare that harp seal numbers have been increasing and that the incredibly high kill quotas of over 335,000 seals each year have been justified because of the "large" seal populations.
For years we have been saying that the harp seal population numbers have been exaggerated by DFO and that the kill quotas were unacceptably high and did not take into account the mortality to seals caused by melting ice due to global warming and reduced food supplies due to overfishing.
Finally, this year, Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn is talking about lowering the quotas. The reason is that they have just discovered that the seal populations are decreasing, not increasing.
No final decision on how large a cut, if any, has been made. But Hearn said he will know more when he meets with department staff in the next week to 10 days.
"Our people have been having consultations with people directly involved in the hunt," Hearn said. "There was some concern this year that the biomass, generally, is down a little bit. I don't have the final figures on that. But we will be meeting on that to assess any changes that have been made."
Last year, the federal government set the quota for harp seals at 335,000 animals, including a one-time allowable catch for Aboriginal Peoples of 10,000 seals.
Recent government reports are indicating decreased numbers of young seals due to the high level of catches as well as the high mortality rates of newborn seals as a result of a lack of ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence over the last two or three years.
Sounds familiar. Sea Shepherd has been saying the exact thing for years and the taxpayers did not have to pay for the studies.
To Hearn and his bureaucrats, seals are simply biomass. When he states the numbers are down a little bit, he is speaking to the sealers who vote for him in Newfoundland. Hearn telling the truth about the numbers might alarm the sealers into thinking Hearn is being overly sympathetic to the seals.
Hearn is trying to perform a political balancing act. He has to acknowledge the science that is pointing to decrease in the number of harp seals and at the same time give the impression that there are lots of seals. Hearn is also loathe to allow science to dictate the management of seals, preferring to steer the topic to economics as a justification for lowering quotas.
According to the Canadian press Hearn said, ""We do have an awful lot of seals, but, at the same time, you may be playing with the markets. Sometimes having more product means lower price," he said. "We're doing very well in the marketplace right now and we don't want to destroy that, so we'll try to combine all of this and try and make a sensible decision."
Of course, DFO has not made a sensible decision on anything for decades.
Frank Pinhead, managing director of the Canadian Sealers Association, said sealers are expecting a cut, albeit a slight one.
"Sealers don't want the seals to go the way of the cod," said Pinhead, who was among the group to recently meet with department officials to discuss the hunt. "They don't support over harvesting. Now the question is, [is] there a need to cut back right now?"
No Pinhead, you will probably prefer to wait until the species crashes like you did with the cod. The position appears to be cutbacks if necessary but not necessarily cutbacks. And like Hearn, Pinhead does not see seals. He sees biomass, stocks, and product.
"We can't go taking out more seals than the herd can withstand," Pinhead said. "We have to make sure that there's a certain number of seals going into the biomass for the future."
The reference to seals as "harvestable biomass" and "product" is indicative of how totally alienated these bureaucrats are about marine ecological systems. Seal populations are already less than 10% of their original numbers prior to commercial exploitation. Like the cod they will keep killing until the percentage is lowered to 4% . The Northern cod populations crashed in 1992 and are not expected to recover. This may be the same fate for the harp seals because of the ecological ignorance of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.