Two sides perform delicate dance waiting for seal hunt to start
SYDNEY — Sealers and anti-sealing activists are performing a delicate dance trying to give away as little as possible while they await the start of the grey seal hunt on Hay Island off Cape Breton.
Fishermen won’t say who their buyer is or where the seals will be processed, and activists with the Humane Society International are staying at a hotel in Sydney waiting for the hunt to proceed so they can document it with video and still photography.
The activists have a zodiac boat ready to launch when the hunt goes ahead, but they don’t want the boat photographed because they are worried about interference.
They say they have had problems in the past, but have been well treated since arriving in Sydney a week ago.
“We’ve been mobbed three times in Newfoundland ... we’ve had vehicles damaged,” humane society executive director Rebecca Aldworth said Monday.
“That said, this is a great city. I haven’t felt worried at all here.”
Aldworth said polls and experience show there is a “real divide” in Cape Breton on how people feel about the seal hunt.
She and other society members said they didn’t expect Sydney to be welcoming, but they have received local messages of support and are prepared to wait out the sealers.
The federal government authorized a grey seal hunt on Hay Island starting Feb. 8 and ending March 15, but fishermen have been waiting on shore for more than a week.
Sealers must give 24 hours notice of their intention to hunt. They won’t be going out today, although a spokesman said they hope to go out this week.
Robert Courtney, president of the North of Smokey Fishermen’s Association, said sealers are waiting for the weather to improve and for the buyer to line up trucks for the harvested seals.
He refused to say who the buyer was or where the trucks would go, saying the buyer “doesn’t want trouble.”
Sealers only harvested 256 grey seals overall last year, including 200 from Hay Island. This year, the government quota is set at 2,200 grey seals from Hay Island.
DFO adviser Andrew Newbould said Monday the longer fishermen wait, the fewer animals that will be available for the harvest.
Aldworth said the federal government should offer fishermen $10,000 or $20,000 as a buyout to stop the seal hunt altogether, but Courtney dismissed that idea.
“ What are they suggesting we do with the seals?” he said. “It’s ridiculous. The ocean can’t sustain what’s there now. To let the whole herd ... expand at that rate with no harvest, that’d be suicide for the seals.
“Once you get overpopulation there’s a number of things that happen and none of them are good.”
Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International, looks out across Sydney harbour, Monday. Aldworth and a crew from the society are staying at a hotel in Sydney while they await the start of the grey seal hunt on Hay Island off Cape Breton.
A nursing seal pup and its mother were photographed by members of the Humane Society International during a trip to Hay Island off Cape Breton, Wednesday. Members of the society, who are staying in Sydney awaiting the start of the Hay Island seal hunt, have been making regular trips to the island to document the nursery and the number of seals populating the island.