by the Halifax Herald, March 29, 2006)
hunt ecologically irresponsible
said that the seal hunt was cruel, and nobody complained that Canada kills whitecoat
pups, at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans latest public consultation
on seal hunting.
the seal forum last November,
only one criticism was raised against the seal hunt. It was argued that the seal
hunt plan is unacceptable because it is not "ecosystem-based," and DFO
was reminded of its legal obligation under the Oceans Act to use ecosystem-based
stable, healthy ocean ecosystem needs large natural predators, and all other big
predators in Atlantic Canada, besides seals, have recently been eliminated. Scientists
accept these facts: This is in reference to the huge numbers of large predatory
fish that long competed with seals to eat small fish.
essentially all big fish are gone, and rising seal numbers have not nearly made
up for the loss. To maintain a healthy natural predator presence in the ocean,
therefore, none of the relatively few surviving fish predators should now be killed,
and that includes seals.
predators play key roles; and entire ecosystems, including the prey species, do
better when predators survive too. Eliminating large predators degrades ecosystems,
and this occurs everywhere from forests to grasslands to oceans.
mass harvest of seals today carries a greater ecological risk to the ocean than
it did when great hordes of large predatory fish shared the waters (cod, shark,
halibut, etc.) and shared the seals ecological role.
truth is that todays ocean scenario, both the potentialities and the risks,
is not remotely like it was in earlier times.
the web of sea life appears strangely unstable, teetering. If we take the seals,
we remove the last natural predators from a once robust web. What collapses then?
platitude that seal hunting is a time-honoured "tradition" becomes irrelevant.
and ice floes may look exactly as they did in past centuries, what lies beneath
the surface has changed dramatically for the worse.
food supply for fish is failing, and the oxygen
content of seawater is falling, as the ecosystem becomes increasingly poor
and degraded. Under this scenario, insisting on targeting the last surviving natural
fish predator courts ecological disaster.
worst of it is that there are DFO scientists who are aware of this problem, but
who are not permitted to speak openly about it.
scientists were not invited to "advise" the "seal managers."
The managers wanted "science advice" only on the size of the seal herds,
refusing to consider information about the state of the ecosystem, including the
now serious shortage of fish predators.
it was explained at the seal forum that DFO scientists have published much relevant
ecosystem science, including a rationale for protecting fish predators, and that
this information should logically translate into advice that managers not approve
another seal hunt the reply was silence.
outside the forum, a DFO official remarked that nobody reads those ecosystem papers
managers were formally asked to consider science advice from their own scientists,
regarding how modern ecosystem objectives should be used in planning the seal
hunt. But they refused, claiming this was unnecessary.
hyperbole about "science on the cutting edge" and "international
leadership," DFO boasts of using a new "ecosystem approach" to
they are not, because the new seal hunt plan is, like all previous ones, based
only on an outmoded "single-species approach."
method was long used by fishery managers: Numbers of fish or seals were estimated
and then some fraction was declared as the quota for a "sustainable fishery."
However, this simple strategy has failed spectacularly think: cod crash.
Science today knows
a better way, but DFO refuses to admit it.
was likely pleased to see animal rights groups again denouncing this springs
harp seal hunt as brutal. That was their cue to launch the standard rebuttal:
"The seal hunt is humane! We have scientific proof of that! And we dont
kill whitecoat pups!"
sure DFO, weve heard all that before. Now please explain why you refuse
to meet your obligation to safeguard the future of Canadas marine life by
using modern scientific methods, by meeting your legal obligation to Canadians
to use an ecosystem-based approach to conservation.
do you refuse to listen even to your own scientists?
Why, after the
disastrous losses of marine life over the last two decades, does Canada still
have government science muzzled by the fishing industry?
MacKenzie is a director of the Grey Seal Conservation