Paul Watson: Seal Hunt Questions and Answers
A Canadian using a "hakapik" to kill a harp seal in the Gulf of St Lawrence yesterday. Canada plans to kill approximately 300,000 seals during the current "hunt." Picture / Reuters
Paul Watson is president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and a long-time opponent of Canada's policy of killing harp seals.
Question: Canadian Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan has said that the harp seal numbers have to be reduced to allow for the recovery of groundfish like the cod. Isn't this a valid argument?
Paul Watson: It is an argument that has absolutely no scientific credibility. The cod fishery collapsed because of the greed of the Canadian and foreign dragger fleets and because of the gross incompetence and mismanagement of the fishery by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
On February 1, 2005, the United States published Senate Resolution 33 which states:
Whereas the fishing and sealing industries in Canada continue to justify the expanded seal hunt on the grounds that the seals in the Northwest Atlantic are preventing the recovery of cod stocks, despite the lack of any credible scientific evidence to support this claim; whereas two Canadian Government marine scientists reported in 1994 that the true cause of cod depletion in the North Atlantic was over-fishing, and the consensus among the international scientific community is that seals are not responsible for the collapse of cod stocks.
People need not take my word for this. I'm sure the US Senate has enough credibility to address this particular lie by the Canadian government.
Question: You have been saying that we need more seals and not less in order to help bring back the cod. How can this be? More seals will mean more cod eaten by seals.
Paul Watson: The marine eco-system of the Western North Atlantic contains a rich diversity of species. It is the interaction of all these species that maintains the ecological balance. Humans have disrupted this balance. The truth is that no more than 3 per cent of a harp's seals diet is made up of cod. Harp seals prey primarily on other species of fish that prey upon young cod. The largest group of predators of fish (aside from humans) is other fish. Reducing harp seal numbers increases predatory fish numbers and allows for an increase in cod predation by these other species.
Again I refer you to the US Senate Resolution 33 that states:
Whereas harp and hooded seals are a vital part of the complex ecosystem of the Northwest Atlantic, and because the seals consume predators of commercial cod stocks, removing the seals might actually inhibit recovery of cod stocks.
The decision to support the seal kill for such a bogus reason is motivated by politics and not science. The politicians in Ottawa need to prevent the fishermen from pointing the finger at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. They need a scapegoat and that scapegoat is the harp seal. Former Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin said the decline of the cod is the fault of one culprit and his first name is Harp and his last name is Seal. He was saying what the fishermen wanted to hear and ignoring his own departmental biologists.
Question: But what about the economics of the seal hunt? What about the jobs provided?
Paul Watson: The seal hunt has lost money for decades. It has been subsidised since the early seventies. The government claims that it makes a profit now and that the hunt is no longer subsidised. That depends on how you look at it. It is true that the government no longer hands cheques out to the Canadian Association of Sealers. They have found other more indirect and subtle ways to subsidise the slaughter.
The government claims the hunt now brings in C$16 million dollars. Yet the government is spending millions to send market researchers around the world to research and motivate markets for seal products. The government provides ice-breakers, helicopters, and personnel to regulate the hunt and to keep protesters and documentarians away from the kill. The government pays for public relations campaigns to defend the hunt. And the government does not disclose the costs involved in these activities.
It is my belief that this is nothing but a glorified welfare scheme using tax-dollars to appease a very small minority of fishermen in Newfoundland.
Question: The government of Canada claims that baby seals are not being killed anymore and that you and others are misrepresenting the facts when you claim this is a slaughter of seal pups. Is this a valid accusation?
Paul Watson: The government is confusing the facts by redefining the definition of a baby seal. The fact is that 95 per cent of the seals being killed are between 12 days and 12 weeks of age. They may not be newborn "whitecoats" anymore, but the difference in age is meaningless. They still are pups. Is a 12-day to 12-week old dog a puppy? The answer is yes. Is a 12-day to 12-week old cat a kitten? The answer is yes, and therefore, the answer to the question as to if a 12-day to 12-week old seal is a pup is "yes."
When an animal is killed before it has learned to swim or has eaten its first solid meal – that to me is a baby.
Another problem is that the government of Canada misunderstands our concerns. It is they who stated that we oppose this slaughter because the victims are baby seals. The truth is that we oppose this slaughter because the victims are seals. I would not condone or support a cruel mass slaughter of adult seals nor would anyone else in the humane or conservation movement.
Another fallacy is that the government is constantly saying that we only focus on the harp seals because it is cute and cuddly and loveable. In saying this, they conveniently ignore Sea Shepherd's other campaigns that focus on fish, sea-cucumbers, plankton, invertebrates, sea-birds, and sea-turtles.
Question: What about the cod? Recently a Newfoundland woman accused you of ignoring the plight of the codfish. She said you are a hypocrite for protecting seals and not cod. How do you defend yourself from this claim?
Paul Watson: I can defend my position quite easily. In 1993, I took my ship to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and led a campaign to oppose the massive drag trawlers. I chased Cuban and Spanish draggers off the Nose and the Tail of the Banks outside of the 200-mile limit. Canada arrested me for this and put me on trial in 1995. I was acquitted of charges, but not until Canada had spent a few million dollars. This action forced Canadian Minister of Fisheries Brian Tobin to confront the Spanish draggers in 1995. Whereas I was arrested as an outlaw for non-violently chasing draggers from the Banks, Tobin was lauded as a hero for firing upon a Spanish dragger and making a big show of arresting the vessel outside the 200-mile limit. A few weeks later, he quietly released the dragger and paid the Spanish government compensation. Where I took action, the Minister faked action.
I have led campaigns to protect cod, salmon, and numerous other species including the Patagonia toothfish, sharks, and sea-cucumbers in the Galapagos.
This accusation has zero validity and demonstrates that those who make such accusations are merely ignorant of the history of these issues.
Question: But if there is money to be made from harvesting seal pelts and utilising the seals, then how is this different than slaughtering cows, pigs, chickens, or sheep for human consumption?
Paul Watson: This is the largest mass slaughter of a marine mammal species on the planet. It is the second mass slaughter of any wild species after the kangaroo in Australia. It is the only mass slaughter that involves newborn wild animals and it is the only mass slaughter where baby animals are killed before the eyes of their mothers.
The mass slaughter of an animal cannot be justified by the fact that someone can make a buck off the killing. There is plenty of money to be made from slaughtering elephants for their ivory or rhinos for their horns and there are few people who would condone the slaughter of elephants or rhinos for this purpose.
There is money to be made growing cocaine, and I am sure that the average Colombian farmer is more desperate to make money from growing coca plants than the average Newfoundland sealer is to kill a seal – however, this doesn't make their activity condonable either.
As for comparing the slaughter to domestic animals, I personally do not condone the slaughter of domestic animals. My ship is a vegetarian vessel and I promote vegetarianism and veganism for ethical as well as ecological reasons.
Question: Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Geoff Regan and his department continually claim that the harp seal populations are "healthy" because they estimate the number at 5 million which is triple what is was in the 1970s. Why are you worried about the seals being endangered if the government says that the population is healthy?
Paul Watson: I don't believe the government figures are accurate. They rely on reports from sealers to make these estimates. The data they base the numbers on are flawed, and even with that in mind, there has not been a peer-reviewed population study on harp seal numbers since 1999.
I believe the population is no more than three million. This figure is less than 10 per cent of the numbers prior to the European conquest of the region. In the 16th Century there were an estimated 40 million seals: walrus, greys, harps, hoods, and harbour. Today the walrus is extinct in the region and the others have been greatly diminished – the harp seals most of all.
Question: Critics say that this is just another case of outsiders coming in and judging other cultures. What right do you have to be critical of a culture that practices sealing? Your critics say that this is just urban people imposing their values on rural communities. How do you answer this charge?
Paul Watson: In this case I am hardly an outsider. I was raised in New Brunswick in a fishing village. My father was born in New Brunswick. My grandfather was born on Prince Edward Island. His father was born in Nova Scotia. I am the eighth generation of my family in the Maritimes and the twelfth generation from my family born in Canada. I was aware of the seal hunt when I was a child and witnessed it at eleven. I am not an outsider in the Maritimes.
Rebecca Aldworth is leading the effort for the Humane Society of the United States and formally represented the International Fund for Animal Welfare. She is a Newfoundlander, born in Newfoundland.
Brian Davies who founded the International Fund for Animal Welfare is from New Brunswick.
Further, the Sea Shepherd crewmembers are international and represent concerned people from around the world. They are not all urban. Many come from rural communities but all people around the world have an interest in the virtues of conservation and humane behavior.
People who live in cities have a right to defend life on this planet and I believe the right to defend life takes precedence over the act of cruelly extinguishing life. The women wearing the coats and the men taking the seal penis potion are urban people primarily. Why do these so called urban people have the "right" to the products of cruel exploitation but other urban people do not have the right to protest this cruelty? Such thinking smacks of elitist arrogance.
Question: The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has joined the International boycott of seafood products along with the Humane Society of the United States. Do you think it is fair to target an entire industry to oppose the seal hunt?
Paul Watson: I don't think it is fair to club defenceless seal pups over the head and skin them alive, but the government is insensitive to those who do believe it is unfair.
The Canadian seafood industry is worth approximately C$3 billion and the seal hunt is worth only C$16 million. The Canadian fishing industry and most fishermen support the slaughter of seals.
I think the boycott is a legitimate tactic and I also believe it will work. We need to make sure that the seal slaughter costs more than it brings in. We need to make sure that the fishing industry and the government of Canada feel the pressure, and unfortunately, where they are insensitive to ethics, conservation, and decency they are always sensitive to economics.
Question: Recently a reporter from Newfoundland asked you why you don't give up. You have been fighting this seal hunt for thirty years and yet it continues. Will you give up and admit defeat?
Paul Watson: No. Our victories are almost always temporary and our defeats are usually permanent. We shut the commercial seal hunt down in 1984 only to see it resurrected with a vengeance in 1995. It is now larger than it ever has been.
I don't choose to fight the sealers. I have no choice. I have seen what they have done on the ice. I have seen the horror up close and personal. I have seen seal pups tortured and skinned alive and I have been beaten by the same ignorant brutes that kill the seals. I am in this fight to the end. We will shut it down again and it may be revived again but I will never surrender to these barbaric thugs and bureaucratic bullies. I believe what we are doing is right, it is just, and it is in the interest of this planet and our future. We will make whatever sacrifices we must. We will go to jail. We will risk our vessels and our lives. We will drag Canada's name through the muck of scandal and we will hurt the Canadian seafood industry as badly as we can.
Question: At some of the seal demonstrations on March 15, the protesters were confronted by Inuit people accusing them of attacking Inuit culture. Is the campaign to protect the seals an attack on the seal hunting traditions of the Inuit people?
Paul Watson: Isn't it a strange coincidence that some Inuit people just happened to be strolling past the government offices on the day and at the same time the protests were taking place? And it is even more curious that these same Inuit people immediately went to the media to attack the protestors and they all said the same thing in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa.
It was scripted, of course, and the Inuit were not there by accident. Canada has for years attempted to link the east coast slaughter of seals to native culture. The fact is, however, that not one Inuit person is employed in the slaughter that is targeting 325,000 seals in March and April of 2005. This is just a government media spin to generate sympathy for the sealers.
The Inuit are being used and they will suffer for it because the more seals the white Newfoundlanders kill, the fewer seals there will be returning to the far north where the Inuit live. But, of course, the Inuit have been pawns of the fur industry for so long that they can't see that their real enemy is the industry and not us.
I find it amazing that the Inuit are defending the same people, the Newfoundlanders, who exterminated the native Beothuk Indian people, the indigenous peoples of Newfoundland. The Beothuk are extinct as are the Newfoundland wolf, the Labrador duck, the giant auk, and the walrus.
In all of my campaigns against the sealers since 1976 when I first went to the ice, I have never seen nor have I ever confronted an Inuit or First Nations person killing a seal.
Source: Sea Shepherd