The DFO’s potential plan to slaughter more than 200,000 grey seals is not only barbaric, it’s unnecessary.
The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is considering a plan to spend $35 million killing hundreds of thousands of grey seals, damaging the fragile environment of Sable Island, Nova Scotia in the process.
Unsurprisingly, the fishing industry – which blames seals for the problems the industry itself has created, namely the decline in fish stocks – is vigorously promoting this deadly plan. Also cheering it on is the Fur Institute of Canada, which says the problem is not the massive, uncontrolled commercial fishing that has almost emptied the world’s oceans, but rather the institute’s favourite target – animal rights activists. Both the fishing and fur industries will seize any opportunity to promote the killing of seals, no matter how irrational.
The plan came to light when The Coast, a weekly Halifax newspaper, used an Access to Information request to obtain details about a 2009 feasibility study conducted by Halifax engineering consultants. Much of the grey seal population breeds on Sable Island, about 300 kilometres southeast of Nova Scotia, famous for its wild horses. Although it is set to become a national park, the island’s ecology is so fragile that only 200 visitors are allowed there each year.
The DFO is considering sending out hunters to kill 100,000 seals in the first year and 30,000 more each subsequent year for the next four years. In order to dispose of the masses of corpses, workers will use heavy machinery, including dozens of heavy loaders and dump trucks, to hurl them into huge incinerators. Shelters and sewage facilities will have to be constructed for the crews engaged in the killing operations. Nova Scotia’s fisheries minister, Sterling Belliveau, says the NDP government is “not opposed” to the slaughter of thousands of animals, and speaking in the typical Orwellian language of animal exploitation industries, he states, “We have always appreciated the traditional hunting methods of a humane industry and will continue to support the seal industry.”
The DFO ignores the suffering of animals this horrific mass slaughter will create and the environmental damage that will surely result from it, but does acknowledge that it is “unclear” that the slaughter will have any impact on the recovery of fish stocks.
The report also suggests another plan: to inject female seals with contraceptive drugs. This would avoid the killing of thousands of animals and could cost only a third as much. Certainly, this is a far more humane way of controlling populations than killing hundreds of thousands of animals. However, even this option raises many empirical and ethical questions. In some situations, seals can actually increase codfish populations by eating herrings that prey on codfish eggs. There is no scientific evidence to show that either culling or contraception would be effective in increasing commercial fish catches. We simply don’t know enough about the complexities of ocean ecosystems to understand the effects of our actions. Furthermore, we should ask ourselves if animal populations should be “managed” at all or if it is human activities that should be better regulated. From this perspective, contraception is simply another attempt to manipulate nature for our benefit, a process that has resulted in one disaster after another.
There are many reasons to avoid the “culling” of animals. Even leaving aside the sheer brutality of killing animals unnecessarily, it is apparent that we do not fully understand the complexity of predator-prey relationships in nature. Culling programs are typically ineffective, often creating very different results than those intended. Our capacity to “manage” other species and the environment is decidedly limited, as the fishing industry itself so clearly illustrates.
DFO scientists themselves have determined that it is not the seals that are responsible for the collapse of the fish stocks, but the huge removal of biomass from the oceans over decades. Commercial fishing has devastated the oceans, and killing seals will not solve these problems. A preview of a report from the UN Environment Program warned that at least a third of the world’s fish stocks have now collapsed and that continuing government subsidies to the fishing industry will mean the oceans will run out of fish by 2050. This followed the May 10 release of the UN’s third Global Biodiversity Outlook report, which found deforestation, pollution, and overexploitation had severely damaged the world’s most vulnerable environments, including the Amazon rainforest, freshwater lakes, and coral reefs, and that we have reached a tipping point of irreversible damage.
What we should do is leave marine animals alone so that ocean ecosystems can restore themselves. However, animal-exploitation industries seek profit in the short term, ignoring all other costs. They are more than willing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars in order to pursue their own profits, even if they destroy the planet in the process.