The millions Ottawa spends subsidizing the seal hunt
By Murray Teitel
April 17, 2008
Whether you think killing seals is a bad thing or a good thing, whether you think it barbaric or humane, you should oppose Canada's annual seal hunt.
According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) the justification for the hunt is to provide economic opportunities for Canada's coastal communities. Last year, according to its Web site, this entire economic opportunity amounted to $12-million, the value of all seal pelts landed. They fetched on average $52 a pelt. According to evidence given to Parliament's standing committee on fisheries and oceans on Nov. 6, 2006, half of that is eaten up by expenses, so we are talking, at most, $6-million that flowed to the sealers themselves: one-tenth of 1% of Newfoundland's GDP. (This year it will be even less, because pelts of three to four week old "beaters" that make up 95% of the catch are selling for between $6 and $33.)
This $6-million costs Canadians at least 10 times as much and does so year after year. First of all, there is the cost of deploying the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) to the seal hunt for seven weeks each year. Last year it involved 10 vessels, many of them icebreakers, helicopters and patrol planes. Nobody in government knows, even less wants to know, what this costs. DFO claims it costs nothing because the boats and aircraft are owned and the crews are on salary. Does it cost nothing to put out fires in Toronto because it owns the trucks and firefighters aren't on piecework? Toronto hires firefighters and buys trucks based on the anticipated number and severity of fires. A significant part of what CCG does is rescue sealers. Some 24% of its 2003 fishing vessel rescues derived from this hunt. Without it, CCG's annual budget could be significantly reduced. One hunt-deployed icebreaker, the Amundsen, costs $50,000 per day to operate in winter. Given DFO's lack of transparency, one can only estimate the annual CCG cost attributable to the hunt at $5-million.
Secondly, every year some disaster occurs. Last year, it was heavy ice that trapped sealers for days on end. Some even ran out of cigarettes! DFO calculated the extra CCG costs due to heavy ice at $3.41-million. It also paid $7.9-million to owners of boats damaged by ice. This year, it is the drowning of four sealers and the near drowning of two while being rescued by CCG. This resulted in the cost of an unsuccessful week-long 2,800 nautical square mile search for one of the drowned and his boat involving patrol planes, helicopters and three icebreakers. The inevitable lawsuits and legal bills will easily cost more than $6-million.
Thirdly, millions are spent every year trying to counter bans on the importation of seal products. Our NAFTA partners and four European countries have imposed bans. Four countries have announced intentions to do so. Italy and Luxembourg have suspended imports. The European Parliament resolved to impose an EU-wide ban. The Council of Europe has called on its 46 members to do so.
Canada has taken Holland and Belgium to the World Trade Organization in Geneva. Aside form being terribly expensive, it jeopardizes a relationship with two countries with which Canada has a trade surplus. $5.2-million of raw seal products constitutes less than 1/1,000 of what we export to Europe.
The DFO, since at least 2003, has been flying high-level delegations to Europe to argue against the bans. Last year, there were at least six such junkets. For example, on March 27, 2007, a 17-person delegation was dispatched to the British Parliament for a meeting attended by only five British MPs. Last month, seven Canadians, including Loyola Sullivan, ambassador for fisheries conservation, the Premier of Nunavut and a Newfoundland Cabinet minister flew to four European capitals for a week.
Unfortunately, they seem to use a travel agent who excels at finding the most expensive fares available. When Mr. Sullivan flew on seal business to five European capitals this January, the airfare alone was $10,270.80. The DFO's Kevin Stringer flew to Paris for $4,459.65 on Sept. 5, 2007. Of course, this is nothing compared with the $16,025.25 spent on airfare to Australia and New Zealand by the DFO's director general of economic analysis whom I wish would do an economic analysis of his own expense accounts. With hotels, wines, meals and support staff, this adds up.
They have as much chance of stemming this tide as Germany did of stopping the Allies after D Day. The battle is lost. But because of ideological fanaticism they keep fighting, secure in the delusion that the Canadian taxpayer, like the cod, is an inexhaustible resource that will forever fund this foolishness that only benefits the high-end European tourism industry.
Fourthly, there is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) led boycott that is largely responsible for the inflation adjusted $465-million drop in the value of Canadian exports of snow crabs - the main seafood export to the United States from Canada's sealing provinces - since April, 2005. The value of 2007 snow crab exports is 44% lower than it was in 2004, the year prior to the boycott.
HSUS has to date persuaded almost 3,600 U.S. businesses to participate, including heavy hitters Publix (annual sales $24-billion), Whole Foods ($7-billion), WinCo Foods, Lowe's Foods, Harris Teeter ($3-billion each) and smaller, seafood-driven ones like Legal Sea Foods ($400-million). Sealing creates less than 1% of the value of the sealing provinces' fishery. Sacrifice 99% for the sake of 1%. Now there's a business plan!
Finally, there is the cost of the DFO seal-hunt bureaucracy, which alone has to cost more than the sealers earn: license issuers, accountants, typists, file clerks, inspectors, quota setters, regulation drafters, "scientists," "statisticians," "economic analysts," speech writers, media relations officers, anti-boycott propagandists, writers of replies to angry letters, arrangers of tours of European journalists (when the seal hunt is not taking place), all in the service of what DFO says is 5,000 to 6,000 (more like 2,000, I believe) people averaging $1,000 a year from killing 275,000 seals. There is a conflict of interest in the DFO having jurisdiction over the Coast Guard. If it were controlled by the Minister of Defence, he'd immediately see that for what he is spending on the seal hunt, he could outfit an artillery regiment.
Enough already. This is a colossal waste of taxpayers' money. And the sealers? Sealers should prefer these monies be used to train them for jobs in the 21st-century economy, rather than to preserve them as relics of a hunter/gatherer one.