Hay Island seal hunt called off
SYDNEY — Sealers in Cape Breton no longer expect to harvest grey seals this year on Hay Island, where they are opposed by humane society activists.
Robert Courtney, president of the North of Smokey Fishermen’s Association, said Thursday sealers were counting on assistance from the Nova Scotia government to prepare seal products to meet the requirements of a buyer, but it didn’t happen.
“They just backed out of the whole thing,” he said.“We needed them to make things work and anyway, they’re not there,” he said.
“As far as Hay Island, it’s basically finished for this year unless something happens in the next day or two, but I don’t see it.”
The sealers won’t identify the buyers.
Courtney said he was disappointed that the Hay Island hunt won’t go ahead, noting that there are likely few grey seal pups left on the island this late in the Feb. 8 to March 15 season for the quota of 2,200 animals that was set by the federal Fisheries and Oceans Department.
“Right up to yesterday, we thought things were going to happen,” he said.
Hay Island is a rocky landscape that is part of the Scaterie Island Wilderness Area off Cape Breton.
Greg Roach, associate deputy minister, confirmed that the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture has been working with the sealers, buyers and other government partners on developing markets for the seals but said the pieces didn’t fall into place in time for the Hay Island hunt.
“The harvesters were identified, the processing buyer group were identified but we didn’t have the details. We don’t just write cheques and let’s see what happens. We needed a little more information and more partners involved.
“It was sort of a big product development, market development program and it’s the way to go.”
Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society International/Canada, which has been standing by in Cape Breton to oppose and document the hunt, was pleased to hear the sealers no longer expect to go to Hay Island this year.
“My first reaction is just tremendous relief that the pups we saw on Hay Island will actually have a chance to survive this year,” she said. “It’s a very bittersweet thing to go out to such an incredibly beautiful place and see such amazing wild animals and to know exactly what is pending for them, what these sealers will do.”
Sealers may yet hunt for grey seals elsewhere in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Courtney said.
Dingwall sealer Pat Briand said they have their eyes on a more lucrative grey seal hunt but he wouldn’t give details.
Aldworth was skeptical about a hunt elsewhere in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, however, saying it would become increasing difficult as the days go by. She also expressed doubts that markets exist for grey seal products.
The population of grey seals in Atlantic Canada is currently estimated at 300,000-plus, although a new count is being conducted, he said. Facing depressed markets last year, sealers only harvested 200 animals from Hay Island.
European Union countries gave final approval in July to a ban on imports of seal products in an effort to force Canada to end its annual seal hunt.