Captain Watson Counterpoints Sealers' Media Blitz
The St. John's Evening Telegram ran an article on today's edition that needs to be commented on. Captain Paul Watson's comments are in yellow print after the paragraphs containing misinformation.
The Telegram (St. John's)
Metro/Provincial News, Friday, April 8, 2005, p. A4
Sealers blast on-ice behaviour
Fear something drastic will happen unless DFO addresses problem of having protesters observe hunt
Massie, Rick; Aucoin, Georgina
Transcontinental Media; Northern Pen
Anchor Point - Two sealers from the Northern Peninsula say their account of what happened during the opening days of the Gulf seal hunt hasn't received the attention that has been garnered by people who protest what they're doing.
Captain Paul Watson: In Canada, the sealers have gotten plenty of attention for their views and especially in Newfoundland where the history of media coverage has been very much biased in favor of the sealers.
The sealers, Dwight Spence of Port au Choix and Ren Genge of Anchor Point, base their views on their experiences with the annual seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It's a dangerous, long-standing tradition which they engage in to generate income for their families and to preserve a way of life.
Captain Paul Watson: Tradition is always used to justify brutality. Cape Cod residents no longer practise whaling although it was a tradition. Some tradtions like sealing, head-hunting, dolphin killing, bear-baiting, cock-fights, dog-fighting, and binding the feet of women have no place in the 21st Century. I think a rule can be made that violence, brutality, or cruelty of any kind should invalidate any attempt to justify a practise on the basis of tradition.
A media blitz about the seal hunt worked its way around the globe last week, sparking strong words from the two sealers. They say they are concerned about the inaccurate information being generated by groups such as the Sea Shepherd Society and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Captain Paul Watson: We stand by the information we post as being accurate.
Recent events highlighted the intense emotions fuelling the fire between sealers and animal rights activists.
On April 1, Spence found himself caught up in the storm of controversy off Prince Edward Island, when several boats from the Northern Peninsula found themselves stuck in heavy ice, unable to manoeuvre. Amidst the string of vessels was the Farley Mowat, a protest ship carrying IFAW supporters and members of the Sea Shepherd crew.
Captain Paul Watson: There were no IFAW members on the Farley Mowat at any time.
Spence, owner of the Cape Ashley, takes issue with news reports originating from the IFAW, which claims the sealers were firing shots over the heads of protesters to scare them off.
"You can't keep them away. They don't listen. They're out there to make history, to make their points, and publicity more or less," he said.
"It's dangerous enough to be there yourself, let alone other people chasing you around trying to get a picture of you doing something they can criticize."
Spence has a different account of what happened on the ice that day. While he acknowledges he is quick to defend the seal hunt, he maintains the incident was blown out of proportion.
"Well, you don't have to fire shots over them; you're firing shots. They're alongside of you, you're firing shots. They can say what they like. It doesn't have to be over their head. You're firing shots around them because you're killing seals.
"Not everybody uses a hakapik; if you got good seals like now, prime beaters, they're running, hauling themselves all over the ice, taking off. You got a hard job to catch them.
Captain Paul Watson: We saw the sealers walking up to baby seal after baby seal and smashing them in the head. I saw one sealer kick a pup in the face. It is not difficult to kill a seal and certainly not hard to catch one.
"That's what you've got guns for. That's the idea. That's the problem that was going on," he explained. "They're saying we were firing shots over their head. We weren't firing shots over their heads. We were firing shots at seals. But you know when those big rifles are going off, it might sound like it's over your head, but you really don't know where it's to.
Captain Paul Watson: A crewman in the Gulf Venture pointed a rifle directly at me on the bridge of the Farley Mowat and he pointed the rifle directly at crewmember Jon Batchlor on the bow of the Farley Mowat. We have a video tape of the incident.
"That's the danger. That's what I'm telling you. Somebody's going to be hurt eventually, because you don't know where those bullets are going to glance and go sometimes."
Captain Paul Watson: This sounds like a threat.
After 15 seasons of participating in the hunt, Spence has seen many changes, from the price of seal pelts to the rising costs of going to sea, to the interference from outside groups.
In spite of the good price fishermen receive for their seals, the future of the industry, in his eyes, looks grim.
Captain Paul Watson: Our objective is to make the future of this horrendous industry look even more grim. We want it abolished.
"The trouble we're running into now has to do with those animal rights," explained Spence. "The price is good now, but if it keeps going the way it's going, if the Department of Fisheries and Oceans doesn't put in some stricter regulations, allowing those people within 10 metres of you on the ice, we're not going to do anything with it. You can't have people with cameras and watching every move you make within 10 metres."
Captain Paul Watson: So Spence is saying that Canadians must sacrifice their constitutional freedom to travel freely in Canadian territory just so he will be left alone to slaughter baby seals.
Spence said using ammunition and hunting is dangerous, and certainly not a place for non-hunters.
Captain Paul Watson: In other words Spence is saying that his rights should take precedence over the rights of non-hunters, that he should have the freedom to travel freely in Canadian territory but that people who disagree with him should not have this right.
"It's a big responsibility, you know, using guns, high-powered rifles, and you got people all around you. Something has definitely got to be looked at."
Another concern voiced by Spence is the way the groups promote their cause, with the excessive use of images of whitecoats, or baby seals. He said the image is misleading and should be immediately put straight to the public.
Captain Paul Watson: A baby seal is a baby seal. All of the pups we saw being killed were under eight weeks of age and most were under six weeks of age. They looked like seal pups to me. They were helpless on the ice. Many had not ventured into the water yet. In other words, the seals being killed are baby seals. Now one of the reasons that we have been using pictures of the whitecoats i.e. pups under three weeks is that the Government of Canada has restricted our access to the hunt and therefore restricted our ability to photograph and film the seal pups being killed. This year, we were able to get some of these images and we will use them. The government insinuates that we save whitecoats because they are cute. Well, at Sea Shepherd, we also work to save sea cucumbers and they are definitely not cute. The seals they are killing are very cute so the new images we have will work just fine. I personally don't see what is wrong about protecting cute animals. It is true we get more media coverage and support when the animals we protect are cute but we also protect many not-so-cute species like plankton, cod, sea-cucumbers, and sharks. The sealers seem to be saying that if an animal is cute it should not be protected because it is cute. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society does not discriminate on the basis of perceptions of attractiveness.
"That image has got to stop. People think that sealers are out killing whitecoats, baby seals. That stopped about 20 years ago. Now it's just used for publicity."
Captain Paul Watson: I repeat, the seals being killed are, in fact, baby seals. All of these seals are under six to eight weeks of age. They are born in late February and early March and the killing begins on March 29th in the Gulf and April 12th on the Front. Just because the Department of Fisheries and Oceans defines them as adults does not make them adult seals.
When questioned about the motives of the protesters, Spence noted he's suspicious about their intent.
"Have they got concerns about killing animals? I don't think that's the concern. They understand the seal situation in Newfoundland, the same as everybody else. It's over-populated, we have too many seals, and seals don't eat chicken. They're destroying our livelihood, our fishery.
Captain Paul Watson: The seals did not destroy the cod fishery. It was men like Spence who destroyed it by greedily overfishing the cod. Seals do not eat chicken but they eat fish species that prey upon cod and the largest predators of young cod are other fish species - not seals. Lowering seal populations increases other predatory fish species. There was a prey-predator balance for millions of years before factory trawlers, draggers, and processing plants were invented.
"There's room for seals, but there's not room for millions. It's just a job, it's just publicity, you know the campaign and making big issues and showing the world they're out there to stop cruelty to animals and all this stuff, making a big issue out of it, that's cruelty, but it's no different than any other thing. You don't see cameras in slaughterhouses up around Ontario or Alberta. It's just ludicrous for the government to let it happen."
Captain Paul Watson: Cameras do go into slaughter houses all the time and those images are broadcast all the time. My ship is a vegetarian vessel. We don't eat fish and we don't eat meat and we are opposed to the slaughter of domestic animals also.
Ren Genge, who returned to his home in Anchor Point Wednesday following the ordeal, said he has similar concerns.
On a website featuring the events aboard the Farley Mowat, Genge was alleged to have kicked a woman in the stomach and attacked a member of the camera crew with a hakapik.
Captain Paul Watson: We never said that Genge kicked a woman in the stomach. We videotaped him punching 19-year old Lisa Moises in the stomach. He can deny all he wants but the video has been shown extensively and documents numerous blows from the Brady Mariner crew against the crew of the Farley Mowat. The video shows the crew being attacked with fists, elbows and with hakapiks. The images speak for themselves.
That's not the case, according to the owner of the Brady Mariner. He admitted harsh words were exchanged and punches were thrown during the encounter.
"First of all, I'm not a liar," he declared.
Captain Paul Watson: Oh yes, Captain Genge you are indeed a liar. Our video proves it.
Genge said the incident started April 1 when some 18-20 people from the Farley Mowat approached two of his crew members, who were in the process of taking a seal.
Captain Paul Watson: The exact number of crew that left the Farley Mowat numbered 16. However, only nine crew were in the area where the sealers were and the other seven were more than a half a nautical mile from any sealers.
"One of the guys called me on VHF and told me these guys were coming right on top of them, so I called the Farley Mowat on the FM and told them not to interfere with my men, but he did not respond."
Captain Paul Watson: I was on the bridge monitoring the radio and I heard no call from the Brady Mariner.
Called for help
Genge said he contacted the Canadian Coast Guard and requested assistance from a DFO officer or a member of the RCMP.
"(Coast guard) said it would take a while and she began making her way there after I called them."
Captain Paul Watson: Our video shows the Canadian Coast Guard helicopter approaching just as the crew of the Brady Mariner assaults the crew of the Farley Mowat.
Captain Paul Watson: Our video clearly shows crewmember Ian Robichaud being attacked with a hakapik. Crewmember Matt Schwartz was also attacked with a hakapik. The video shows the Brady Mariner crew raising the hakapiks and swinging them at the crew of the Farley Mowat. There were no spears on any walking sticks and the video clearly shows that this accusation has no credibility. The video also shows Farley Mowat crew blocking blows with walking sticks but not once did they strike back at the attackers.
Genge said he couldn't wait.
"I had to go out and help my men. Some 18-20 people wearing black masks with their hoods up, and ski goggles, were coming at us with sticks that had spears stuck on them. So we battled at each other with sticks. I did not hit anyone with a hakapik."
"There were arguments, rowing and fighting, it lasted for a while. They had a German girl that said I hit her, but I didn't. I just pushed her aside to deal with the guy with the camera and I knocked the camera out of the man's hands with a hakapik. Then I punched a guy and they also chased me with bats after that, and that was the end of it. It didn't seem like they would turn away, and I was scared that something serious would happen.
Captain Paul Watson: First Genge states that he did not hit anyone with a hakapik then he states in the next paragraph that with a hakapik he knocked a camera out of a man's hand. Then he admits to assaulting another person. No one chased him with a bat. The entire incident is on video without interruption. Genge is a liar.
"Really, that's all I did. It was self-defence. I sent my men on the ice and it was my responsibility to look after them. Tempers flare sometimes."
Captain Paul Watson: They most certainly did. It was he who lost his temper and became violent.
Genge said he would like to know what these protesters do, who they are, where they come from, and whether they have a criminal history or not.
Captain Paul Watson: Captain Genge can look up the profiles of the crew on our website. The man he struck in the face is Dr. Jerry Vlasak, an emergency room trauma surgeon who works in a hospital in Riverside, California. He is married to Pamelyn Ferdin, an actress who was the voice of Lucy in the Peanuts cartoon series. The girl he punched is Lisa Moises, a 19-year old student from Germany. The man who was struck by the hakapik was Ian Robichaud, a businessman from Los Angeles. The other men struck were Adrian Haley, a sculptor from Wisconsin, and Jon Batchelor, a forestry consultant from Washington State. Not one of them has ever been convicted of a felony crime nor has any person who was on the Farley Mowat in the Gulf during the seal slaughter.
"Who are those people with masks on?"
Captain Paul Watson: Masks? Like the sealers, our crew were only wearing cold weather clothing and gear.
Foremost on his mind, though, is the fear the tension between the two groups will escalate into something far more dangerous than the latest encounter.
"That's why I turned back, not because I was scared. What I'm scared of, and the point I'm trying to get across, is that something serious is going to happen."
Genge said he had a lot of time to reflect on the incident the night it occurred, which he spent on watch in the wheelhouse.
He wants to know what regulations can be implemented to avoid similar events in the future. "Why should they be allowed in Canadian ports? Why can these people get away with these things, interfering with our work, ramming ships and the like? We're there for the seals, not the people. You've got a bunch of people out there fed up. If there were guns involved that day, I don't even want to think about what might have happened."
Captain Paul Watson: Is Captain Genge suggesting that I as a Canadian on a Canadian ship not be allowed into a Canadian port? He makes reference to ramming their ships. I am not aware of any sealing ship being rammed this year or in any previous year. And is his last sentence a threat? It sounds like a threat. Was that a threat Captain Genge?