Febuary 10, 1995 Halifax Herald
According to some estimates, 5 million to 6 million, Grey, Harp and Hooded Seals are harvesting fish off our coast. Their numbers are thought to be increasing at the alarming rate of 10 to 15%, per year. If we go with the conservative figure of 10%, it translates into at least another half-million of these beasts gobbling up scarce fish stocks by the end of this year.
It has been estimated that the Grey Seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence alone, which number about 144,000, consume 40,000 tons of cod per year. If you apply this same yardstick to the entire region, based on a seal population of five million, it comes to a staggering 1,388,000 tons per annum!
Last August, due to the lack of new initiatives shown by the Fisheries Department towards resolving the crisis, I wrote a column where I wondered what was going on. Seven months later, with more people out of work in the industry, and with no prospects of a turnaround in sight, and with fish stocks tumbling to levels that may spell no return, and with government still seemingly impotent, I find myself still wondering. In attempting to deal with the fishery crisis, our leadership seems to be standing around dumbstruck by the magnitude of it. When pushed, they occasionally issue an ineffectual pronouncement about what they might do.
There is a lot of consensus among the real experts in this field, the fishermen, that if action isn't soon taken, there quite possibly won't be any need for such. Therefore, Mr. Tobin, its time to get up off your duff and begin to look for workable ways and means to bring the situation under control. While so doing, you might keep in mind that, once the seals completely deplete the fish stock - which, according to some sources, is almost a fact now - they will face massive starvation; and then no players, human or animal, involved in the playing out of this fiasco will profit. In the wake of such a disaster coming to pass, the human managers will stand firmly condemned by all for their inaction.
Why the impotency of government? At creation, the Creator gave us the wherewithal to think, manage and plan. He gave us the animals to help serve our needs by providing us with much of our food supply, bedding, clothing and, in some cases, housing. He also gave us a mandate to treat our animal benefactors humanely. This said, I personally think that we have the ways and means to set up a process which will enable us to humanely cull back the seal herds to manageable numbers, without resorting to the horror of clubbing them to death, as was done in the past. So, why wait?
Fear seems to be the main factor causing the inertia among our leadership. From my point of view, keeping in mind that uncountable millions of human beings are going to bed with near empty or empty stomachs each night, it seems downright callous and cruel to permit a bountiful food resource to come to ruin because of a fear of upsetting the radical elements within the animal-rights movement.
I count myself among the people who consider themselves reasonable animal rights-activists and who laterally accept that human and animal rights have to be balanced. And I deplore and condemn without reservation the mistreatment of animals. Also, I am a conservationist. Being a conservationist, I think that we can, by working together, work out a long term solution which will once again see humans and beasts complimenting one another's existence in the Atlantic fishery.
I saw a headline recently which feeds the fear and paranoia among the radical element when it comes to harvesting seals. It read: "Tobin looks for ways to kill more seals." Perhaps the same headline could have been worded in a manner that would have been positive, sensitive and constructive; for instance, "Tobin ponders seal cull methods to save fishery and seal herds." Or, in order to provoke action, the media might have given some consideration to something like this: Aping Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned, Tobin ponders while fish stocks plummet to near extinction levels.
I believe we all have to keep foremost in mind that the problems in the fishing industry affect us all, and thus we all have a stake in supporting a last-ditch effort to save it. Already, the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in the fishery has had a spreading effect, and many have been thrown out of work in other areas because of it. Selling appliances, autos, newspapers, etc., can only take place when people have incomes to buy things with; unemployed people without hope will not fuel an economic upturn.
If properly managed, fish stocks and seal herds can be maintained at a harmonious and productive level. Therefore, the quicker we stop procrastinating and get on with the job of managing, the sooner we can return a measure of stability and prosperity to the industry. To continue with the present practice, of waiting for something miraculous to occur to resolve the problem for us, is a mistake of unknown, but probably disastrous, proportions.
Daniel N. Paul