In the last posting on our website on this issue (2/24/06), we reported that the Canadian Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Officers turned a blind eye to the activities of nine Cape Breton fishermen who cruelly and illegally slaughtered 220 gray seals in a protected wilderness area of Nova Scotia.
It appears now that the DFO officers actually encouraged the illegal slaughter.
"We were encouraging it," DFO spokesman Jerry Conway said on 2/23/06, a day after the men received summonses from provincial Natural Resources Department conservation officers as they stepped onto the dock Tuesday at Main-a-Dieu, Cape Breton County.
The pending charges are under the Wildlife Act, the Wilderness Protection Act, and the Environment Act. The nine men are to appear in Sydney provincial court on May 8.
The men killed the seals on Hay Island, a small outcropping off Scatarie Island, a provincially-designated wildlife management area. Because it lies within 1.6 kilometers off Scatarie, Hay Island is automatically included in the management area, a fact that at least two levels of government say they were unaware of.
"Not only wasn't this department (DFO) aware that Hay Island was not considered to be part of Scatarie, but the provincial Fisheries Department weren't aware, because both were encouraging the development of this fishery," Mr. Conway said, adding that when the seal hunt was established, sealers were informed they could harvest gray seals from Cape North through to the Bay of Fundy. No specific areas were closed to them."
So both the Federal and Provincial Fisheries Department were admittedly ignorant of the fact that this was a protected area.
"This is the kind of ignorance routinely displayed by the Canadian Department of Fisheries," said Captain Paul Watson. "Here they are in charge of protecting wildlife, and yet, they admit they don't know where the boundaries are."
A letter from the Natural Resources Department in 2003 alerted both government departments to this area being off limits, Mr. Conway admitted.
And as recently as three weeks ago, a group trying to develop a sealing industry in Nova Scotia was lobbying Provincial Environment Minister Kerry Morash to allow seals to be slaughtered specifically on Hay Island.
"The minister advised them that Hay Island is not open to hunting and they subsequently have been advised again and by DFO and DNR officers that there was to be no hunting on Hay Island and they chose to ignore that advice," Mr. Conway admitted.
Ewen MacIntyre, spokesman for the Natural Resources Department in Coxheath, said DFO regulates the seal fishery and that his department is involved simply due to the location of the hunt.
"As far as we are concerned, the onus is on the sealers to know where they can and cannot hunt," he said.
Victoria-The Lakes Member of the Legislature Assembly Gerald Sampson says he was approached last month by a number of northern Victoria County seal hunters who want Hay Island excluded from the wildlife management designation.
"They told me that they had harvested seals there previously and wanted permission to harvest seals there again," he said, adding he directed them to Mr. Morash and Neil Bellefontaine, a senior DFO official.
"I don't know if they received permission or if that was the group that was charged," he said.
Jay Luger, spokesman for the Grey Seal Research and Development Society, which wants to develop a grey seal industry, has refused to comment on the illegal slaughter on Hay Island.
It is expected that the arrested sealers will use the fact that DFO encouraged them to kill seals as their defense on the charges. It is also expected that the courts will be lenient.
"It is not as if they did something serious like photograph a seal hunt," said Captain Paul Watson. "Eleven of my crew were sentenced to jail for 22 days or a fine of $1,000 for the "crime" of witnessing the slaughter of one seal. These bastards viciously slaughtered 220 seals illegally and I bet their sentence, if they in fact are even found guilty, will be significantly more lenient than those convicted of trying to stop the killing of the seals. Justice is not blind in Canada; it is applied with great clarity and prejudice."