Nfld. & Labrador

Seal hunt comments draw stinging rebukes

St. John's South-Mount Pearl MP Ryan Cleary is facing criticism over comments he made this week about the future of the seal hunt.

MP Ryan Cleary flayed by industry proponents, political opponents over remarks

A hunter heads towards a harp seal during the annual East Coast seal hunt in this 2009 file photo. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

St. John's South-Mount Pearl MP Ryan Cleary is facing criticism over comments he made this week questioning the future of the seal hunt.

In an interview with CBC's Fisheries Broadcast, Cleary spoke about the viability of the hunt.

"We know that the world appetite is not there for seal meat, but the world appetite for seal products — I don't know if it's there," Cleary said. "And you know what? I may be shot for talking about this, and for saying this, but it's a question we all have to ask."

A troika of federal Conservative cabinet ministers issued a joint statement Tuesday clubbing the rookie NDP MP for his remarks.

NDP MP Ryan Cleary is facing heat over comments he made on the future of the seal hunt. ((CBC))

"For someone who ran supposedly to represent the interests of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, MP Ryan Cleary's comments seem to show that he's giving up on supporting local sealers," said the statement by Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue, and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who represents Nunavut.

"Unlike the whaling industry, there is no conservation reason to end the hunt. Though the industry continues to battle misinformation put forth by animal rights activists who try to close market access, our government sees no commercial reason to end the hunt."

Unexpected comments

Cleary also faced criticism closer to home.

Frank Pinhorn, executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association, said the comments were unexpected.

"I thought that he would represent the interest of the hard-working sealer, the hard-working commercial fishermen and I thought that he would represent our views and advocate our way of life here," Pinhorn said.

Pinhorn says he would have preferred if Cleary had spoken with the sealers group before making the comments, to help develop an approach to change the Harper government's "weak and ineffective" position on sealing.

"What (Cleary) did was an insult to every fisherman and every person in rural Newfoundland and Labrador," Pinhorn said.

Frank Pinhorn of the Canadian Sealers Association is criticizing MP Ryan Cleary's comments. (CBC)

A businessman whose company depends on the seal fishery was left shaking his head over Cleary's comments.

Dion Dakins of NuTan Furs in Catalina says the industry is already waging an external battle, and doesn't need to be sidetracked by internal doubt.

"I certainly don't think that it's the most helpful in this debate to have that question posed by someone who's supposedly the 'Fighting Newfoundlander.' That doesn't sound much like the fighting Newfoundlander that certainly we think we need in this battle. We're in a 40-year war on this seal issue." 

The seal hunt was worth about $1 million last year. Dakins says he'd like to hear Cleary voice stronger support for the seal fishery, rather than talk reflectively about it.

Meanwhile, in Twillingate, reaction to the comments was also negative.

"What's going to happen to the rest of the cod and stuff like that now — going to have to put a cull on it?" Gus Young asked.

MP issues statement

Cleary issued a news release on his website Tuesday "to clarify misleading comments in the media" about his position.

He said the NDP stand on the seal hunt has not changed. "The party and I are in full support of the commercial seal hunt — period," he said in the statement.

"The debate about the future viability of the industry is a worthy one and it needs to happen. It can only be a good thing as we chart a future course for our overall fishery. Having this debate does not signify in any way an end to the hunt — we simply need to start talking. For too long, simply raising the seal hunt issue has been taboo. It shouldn't be."

At least one seal hunt opponent was happy with Cleary.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued an "action team alert" Tuesday, calling his comments "terrific news."