Every year the gruesome spectacle is repeated in Newfoundland on Canada's east coast.
Scores of fishermen
and hunters gather off the coast of Newfoundland to kill thousands of seals. Newly-born seals and their
mothers are clubbed to death or drowned in icy water. Despite international protests, the slaughter
Over the years, environmentalists have launched numerous attacks against seal hunting. Supported by
noted celebrities such as the French actress, Brigitte Bardot, and other well-known personalities, some
measure of success has been achieved. The international market for the soft white fur of the baby seal has
Newfoundland's Provincial Fisheries Minister, John Efford, managed to convince the Canadian federal
government in Ottawa to permit the killing of 285 000 seals. The exercise, however, drew heavy criticism
from observers of the International Fund for Animal Welfare who claimed that close to 500 000 seals were
Efford had defended the seal hunt as being absolutely necessary. He said that the culling of these seals
was neither done for sport or game, nor for their fur. Instead these seals were killed to save the livelihood of
local fishermen who viewed the seals as pests and a threat to their source of income.
These fishermen claim that the seals feed on the codfish that proliferate in the waters off the coast of
Newfoundland. They lament that this has consequently resulted in a drastic fall in the number of codfish
and subsequently thwarting their efforts at earning their wages as commercial fishermen. "The seal herd is
so large that it has exhausted the food chain," explain the fishermen. The seriousness of the situation has
prompted the fishermen to appeal to the federal authorities in Ottawa to approve the
culling of an
additional two million seals.
The Federal Fisheries Minister, however, has rejected the idea saying that current scientific knowledge
does not support such a drastic move. At the same time, the Parliamentary Fisheries Committee has begun
a special investigation into the matter. Scientists, too, are trying very hard to determine how much damage
the seals actually cause. "There's no scientific consensus on the impact of seals on cod stock regeneration,"
said the head of the research section of the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
No accurate information on the number of seals living in the northern Atlantic appears to be available.
In 1994, the estimate was set at about five million mammals, and in early 1999 a very rough estimate was
made at six million seals.
In an effort to counter and appease international protest, Efford suggested a completely new approach.
Rather than view the seals as pests, he urged that they be regarded as a source of food. "There are hundreds
and thousands of people going hungry each day in the Third World," he said.