Nfld. & Labrador·Opinion

Furlong | Are the animal rights groups on to something?

The seal hunt is badly wounded, and may be doomed to a long, slow death. Fisheries Broadcast host John Furlong looks at why there are new calls for an exit strategy.

I'd love to know the real story of the Canadian seal hunt.

How far back does the federal government's discomfort with it go? When did Ottawa start treating the hunt like Canada's dirty little secret they didn't want to talk about?

As you know, Taiwan is the latest country to ban seal products. They've lined up with the EU, with Russia and Belarus and Kazakhstan, and with the U.S.

It's too bad, really, that all Ottawa has offered up are a few empty phrases about its support for Canadian sealers.

There are a few other things that trouble me about the seal hunt. And before I go any further, you all know my feelings about discussions inside of this province on the seal industry. I am disappointed there is virtually no debate. A person can't have a contrary view on the seal hunt. Anyone outside the province who is against the hunt is dismissed as a money-grabbing, mainland lunatic.

If you suggest from inside the province the hunt might be on the way out, you're branded as an "anti-rural Newfoundland traitor."

If you're a Newfoundlander, you can be for or against capital punishment, for or against abortion, for or against same sex-marriage ... all with less grief than if you said you were even conflicted, as I am, about the seal hunt. Maybe there'll be some online comments reacting to this piece that will prove my point.

Imagine, for example, if I were to suggest that maybe Rebecca Aldworth is right. The head of Humane Society International says it's time to see what can be salvaged from the fading seal industry by investigating licence buy-backs from sealers.

Rebecca Aldworth has been an outspoken opponent of the Canadian seal hunt for many years. (CBC )

What if I suggested we should strike while the iron is hot and leverage a few bucks from Ottawa. I think the feds would be delighted to see the arse-end of the hunt. Ottawa doesn't seem to have much interest in the hunt. Hardly any, really.

It hasn't lifted a finger to help in the valiant fight that people in Newfoundland and Labrador have put up. The only thing Ottawa has done is trot out more rhetoric about its support.

It hasn't raised a diplomatic fist to countries that banned seal products. It appointed Ambassador Loyola Sullivan to go around the world to stem the tide of opposition and where did that get us? Nowhere. It announced a deal with China a few years ago and has done little on that file since.(And can someone, anyone, in Ottawa please tell me where that deal is?)

So how is the hunt going to flourish and prosper against that backdrop? The answer: It won't. I know that there are 10 million seals out there, and something has to be done about them, but that's a separate issue.

That's too bad because there are people in this province who tried so hard. People like Mark Small in Wild Cove, Jack Troake in Twillingate, Dion Dakins in Dildo, Eldred Woodford in Herring Neck, Frank Pinhorn in St. John's. All decent, sensible people who were left on their own to fight battles against the EU and Russia and now Taiwan.

Ottawa pretended to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, but its heart was never in it. I suspect it hopes the hunt would just dry up and blow away. The people here fighting the battles never got the support they needed. Ottawa seemed reluctant to make eye contact with them.

Now with the Taiwan ban, the outlook is even more bleak.

Defending the indefensible?

We are watching an industry that's badly wounded. We are on the brink of having to defend the indefensible. Killing seals for fur that fewer and fewer countries will allow to be imported. Killing seals and leaving the meat on the ice because few people want it.

The problem is that if seal meat tasted like chicken nuggets, we'd be laughing. But instead it's a heavy, acquired taste. Sometimes the highest praise it can fetch is when someone says their mother cooks it in such a way that "it doesn't taste like seal at all"!

Notice the number of Newfoundlanders who say they love seal once or twice a year. You don't hear many people say they eat seal every Sunday.

Don't get me wrong. There are parts of the seal hunt that make even me uncomfortable. When a sealer kills four seals with a rifle and discovers when he gets to the ice pan another live seal, he'll club it over the head. That's a tough sell for me.

And we don't kill "baby" seals anymore? Technically, that's true as well. We now wait until they shed their white-coats. We now wait until they are around fourteen days old. That's a tough sell for me, too.

But I'm comforted in that sealers say they kill animals with the utmost of care and respect and humanity.

Why, then, does the Canadian Sealers Association and the industry and the government still talk about the need for training sealers? You mean, they're NOT killing with respect and care? They are NOT being killed as humanely as possible? That sealers still need to learn how to do it properly? You mean, the animal rights groups might be right?

I feel for the poor old industry and the people who try to defend it.

About the Author

John Furlong is a host on CBC Radio One in St. John's.