Today Canada’s Minister of Fisheries, Gail Shea, announced plans to sell seal products to China. The sealing industry in Canada has been crippled by the EU ban on the import of seal products, but today’s announcement could renew the wide scale slaughter of seals off the coast of Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Taiji, Japan, and the Province of Newfoundland have some frightening similarities. Both kill a marine species, despite enormous international pressure to end the slaughters.
The North Atlantic cod fishery was mismanaged and overfishing destroyed the cod stocks, but government officials often blame the seals for the collapse of the cod fishery. The dolphin killers in Taiji believe they are performing a public service by killing dolphins because dolphins are a pest. There is no scientific evidence that any appreciable decline of fish stocks can be attributed to seals or dolphins, but who needs science when people believe anything they are told by their government.
Japan maintains there are plenty of dolphins and Canada claims to have too many seals. Japan issues permits to kill dolphins based on out-dated population surveys and Canada fails to report or acknowledge that thousands of baby seals drown because there is not enough ice to serve as a birthing ground and nursery. As climate change worsens, the lack of ice is certain to threaten the seals' survival.
Canada and Japan justify their barbaric acts with the excuse that it is their tradition. Many crimes against humanity and the environment have been committed in the name of tradition, but people in civilized societies move forward and don’t cling to destructive and unethical practices.
Politicians in both countries don’t seem to care that a single industry, if we can call it that, damages the reputation of their country. In both nations, a very small number of people benefit financially, but citizens are reluctant to express their opposition. Most Japanese do not eat whale meat and very few have ever eaten dolphin, but it would be considered unpatriotic for Japanese citizens to speak out against the dolphin slaughter. I don’t personally know anyone who has eaten seal meat, but Canadians, especially those living on the east coast, are reluctant to voice their objection to the seal hunt.
When I was in Taiji, we exercised caution because there was concern for our safety, but to my knowledge, the killers of Taiji have not injured any activists or damaged property. The police and coast guard have worked hard to keep the peace in Taiji and to ensure the safety of the activists. In Canada, there have been occasions when the coast guard and police have behaved as if they were the sealers’ private security force and they stood by while property was destroyed and people were injured. Taiji comes out ahead when we compare the relative performance of the police and coast guard.
While Canadian farmers struggle to survive, fisherman, especially the sealers, are heavily subsidized. I do not know if the dolphin slaughter in Taiji is government funded, but the tax payers of Japan fund the whale poachers in the Southern Ocean as they target protected Minke whales, endangered fin whales, and highly endangered humpback whales in an internationally recognized whale sanctuary, in violation of the moratorium on commercial whaling, and in contempt of the Antarctic Treaty.
When I speak with Canadians about the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, they are horrified, but sadly, Canada has a shameful record and it would appear Fisheries Minister Gail Shea plans to match the disgraceful history with an equally appalling future.
For the Oceans,