Canada Orders Sea Shepherd to Stay Away from Seal Hunt
OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, March 24, 2008 (ENS) - In an attempt to prevent the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society from interfering with this year's seal hunt, the Canadian government Friday issued a warning to the organization that one of its vessels is believed to be "in contravention of international maritime conventions."

In a fax to the Master of the M/Y Farley Mowat, Lawrence Cannon, minister of transport, infrastructure and communities, directed the vessel not enter Canadian waters. "If this order is not complied with you will be subject to prosecution under Canadian law."

A photo of the Farley Mowat in 2002 when she was registered in Canada (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)

Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson said the Farley Mowat is in Bermuda and he plans to sail her to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador to intervene in Canada's annual seal hunt.

Watson replied to the minister that "the ship does not comply with all the IMO [International Maritime Organization] conventions because "the conventions apply to a commercial ship and the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat is a registered yacht."

"Although the Farley Mowat WILL be entering the Canadian Economic Exclusion Zone next week, we will not be entering the 12 mile territorial limit," Watson informed the minister.

"We dispute the 'right' of the Canadian government to deny free passage of a Dutch registered yacht into the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the offshore waters off Labrador and Newfoundland," wrote Watson. "The Farley Mowat is not engaged in an economic activity and therefore we will not be in violation of the economic exclusion zone. We have the right of free passage through these said waters."

Canadian sealer pursues his quarry. (Photo courtesy Humane Society of the United States)

In a variety of vessels, Watson has demonstrated against the Canadian seal hunt since the mid-1970s and has taken Sea Shepherd vessels to the hunt since 1979. He has been attacked and arrested for these demonstrations, but has not been deterred.

On March 10, Canadian Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Loyola Hearn announced that this season's total allowable catch would be 275,000 harp seal pups, out of a seal herd of more than 5.5 million animals.

The 2008 hooded seal total allowable catch has been set at 8,200 animals out of a herd of 600,000.

Canada's commercial seal hunt is the world's largest hunt for marine mammals. Last year over 224,000 seals were killed, 98 percent of them pups under three months of age.

"The seal hunt is an economic mainstay for numerous rural communities in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and the North," said Minister Hearn, who represents the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in the Canadian Parliament.

"It's with these people in mind we make decisions based on science to help maintain an economically viable and sustainable seal hunt," he said.

Watson argues that, "The threat of diminishing ice coverage due to global warming has not been factored into the decision to set quotas."

Hearn has responded to such accusations by directing Canadian scientists to accelerate the next harp seal population survey. "To ensure DFO makes future decisions on the most up-to-date science, the Department has already started its population survey instead of waiting until 2009, as originally planned," he said.

"Our fisheries science is among the world's best, and thanks to additional investments by this government, we are able to do even more," said Hearn. "Having shorter periods between seal surveys allows us to more easily assess ice conditions, reproductive rates and other factors that affect Canada's harp seal population."

"Canada's seal hunt is humane, sustainable and responsible," the minister said. "A number of independent reports have supported this over the years, including the recent European Food Safety Authority report on the animal welfare aspects of global seal hunts."

But on December 19, 2007, at the request of the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority released its report on the Animal Welfare Aspects of Seal Hunting, finding that there is no scientific evidence to support the Canadian government's claims that its commercial seal hunt is humane.

In its examination of Canada's commercial seal hunt, the European Food Safety Authority scientists found that:

The European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, concludes that seals should be recognized as sentient marine mammals that can experience pain, distress, fear, and other forms of suffering - not fish, as they are classified in Canada. It also recommends that seals should be protected from killing and skinning practices that cause them pain, distress, and avoidable suffering.

Harp seal pups younger than three weeks have white fur and may not be hunted. (Photo courtesy HSUS)

"The Canadian government's claim that 98 percent of the seals are killed humanely in the commercial seal hunt is exposed in the report as being scientifically incorrect," said Sheryl Fink, senior researcher with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, IFAW, which protests the seal hunt every year and provided video evidence to the EFSA.

"This report reveals the truth about Canada's commercial seal hunt, and destroys one of the greatest myths constantly propagated by the Canadian government," said Fink.

In the last year, an international groundswell of public opposition to this hunt has brought about national bans on seal products in Belgium and The Netherlands. Similar bans designed to close down markets for seal pelts are currently under consideration in Germany, Italy and Austria.

Hearn said the Canadian government is "challenging unlawful bans on Canadian seal products in Europe at the World Trade Organization."

On March 15, participating in celebrations of Canada's sealing tradition, Hearn said, "For far too long, anti-sealing groups have tried to shine a negative spotlight on Canada's legal and humane seal hunts and in doing so have needlessly tarnished the reputations of our coastal communities, and our country. Their arguments, based largely on questionable studies and emotional rhetoric, have only succeeded in uniting federal, provincial, territorial and commercial efforts to defend this important cultural tradition and economic driver along Canada's eastern and northern coasts.

Once harp seal pups have lost their white coats at about three weeks, they are called "beaters" and are fair game for the seal hunters. (Photo courtesy IFAW)

"I applaud the efforts of industry, as well as the governments of Nunavut, and Newfoundland and Labrador to up the ante in addressing the unfounded claims of anti-sealing groups," the minister said. "Through celebrations that acknowledge our sealing heritage we are succeeding in getting the real story about humane and sustainable sealing out to the public."

Watson, a Canadian citizen, made it clear to the Canadian government that the Sea Shepherd will not back down from its attempt to intervene in this year's seal hunt, saying, "The ship will proceed into the Gulf of St. Lawrence to defend seals from the violence and ecological recklessness of Canadian seal killers."

"My international crew are prepared for a confrontation with your government over this issue and no threats of prosecution or threats of physical harm will deter us from standing up in defense of innocent seal pups," he wrote to Minister Cannon.

"As always Sea Shepherd campaigns will exercise extreme caution to insure that no person is injured. Sanctity of life is our priority consideration," Watson wrote.

"The seal hunt is a perverse abomination that has no place in the civilized world and certainly no place in Canada in the 21st century," he wrote.

"Do your worst Mr. Minister, if we are ready to risk our lives on the high seas to defend marine wildlife, the fear of imprisonment is hardly a deterrent," Watson wrote. "In fact being imprisoned for defending innocent lives is a mark of honour and distinction. Protecting the innocent from the remorseless and the merciless is what this organization was established to do."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.