Let’s not for­get seals in the cod equa­tion

The Packet (Clarenville) - - Editorial - Bob Wake­ham Bob Wake­ham has spent more than 40 years as a jour­nal­ist in New­found­land and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwake­ham@nl.rogers.com

My friend Jack Troake of Twill­ingate called the other day to en­gage in one of our pe­ri­odic con­ver­sa­tions, an al­ways de­light­ful gabfest where the top­ics usu­ally range from med­i­cal up­dates (more fre­quently a sub­ject as we both curse the ag­ing process) to moose huntin’, from politi­cians to the for­bear­ance of the women in our lives.

(I’m sure we also “tell a few lies,” the amus­ing but in­sight­ful way my late Un­cle Bill Judge used to de­scribe the ex­ag­ger­ated fash­ion in which New­found­lan­ders con­verse: “Let’s go have a beer and tell a few lies, Bob,” Bill would sug­gest).

Jack and I also in­vari­ably re­call the five days or so we spent to­gether over a decade ago now (along with cam­era­man Ty Evans), a time when we es­tab­lished a last­ing friend­ship while I was doc­u­ment­ing the sad­dest event in Jack’s life, the tragic drown­ing of his son Garry, for a “Land and Sea” pro­gram called “Death of a Fish­er­man.”

(That par­tic­u­lar year, 12 in­di­vid­u­als em­ployed in the fish­ing in­dus­try had been killed in New­found­land and Labrador, and I was at­tempt­ing to en­sure their deaths weren’t rel­e­gated to some sta­tis­ti­cal file, a goal I thought might be achieved specif­i­cally through the telling of Garry Troake’s story, Jack and his fam­ily, their hearts bro­ken, dis­played amaz­ing for­ti­tude in help­ing me do just that. )

And, as is usu­ally the case with these phone calls—the first time Jack called me here in Fla­trock, I fool­ishly asked how he had got­ten my num­ber, and he replied, in his inim­itably quick-wit­ted and en­dear­ingly saucy way: “Ya know what, Bob, b’y, we got f--kin’ phone books in Twill­ingate”—the con­ver­sa­tion in­vari­ably turned to seals.

Jack, after all, re­mains a leg­end of the seal fish­ery (as was Garry), and has no wor­ries about be­ing in­vited to any Green­peace wine-and-dine re­cep­tions, not that he wouldn’t at­tend and tell all those hyp­ocrites where to go and how to get there.

So, with­out any prompt­ing from me the other day, he re­ferred to that an­nounce­ment by Cana­dian sci­en­tists about the still crit­i­cal state of the north­ern cod stocks, and won­dered why there seemed to be lit­tle men­tion of seals (or, if there was, it was buried in the news cov­er­age), and the dev­as­tat­ing im­pact they have al­ways had, and con­tinue to have, on the mor­tal­ity rate of the cod.

There’s more seals out there than ever be­fore, mil­lions upon mil­lions upon mil­lions, Jack noted, the re­sult of the an­ti­seal­ing move­ment’s de­struc­tion over the past three decades of the mar­kets for pelts, and the en­su­ing, dra­matic re­duc­tion in the num­ber of seals har­vested each year.

Jack must have cut open the guts of thou­sands of seals, so he can at­test to just how much cod they con­sume, and the fact that, as he pointed out to me: “They don’t eat just when they’re hun­gry, but gorge con­stantly on cod and caplin, and just about any­thing they find.” Jack said he found a pair of gloves in the stom­ach of one dead seal.

I’m not sure why the sci­en­tists didn’t make as big a deal as they should have about seals and their dra­matic in­flu­ence on the cod stocks; per­haps they’re sheep­ish about the sub­ject, given its con­tro­ver­sial na­ture. You never know. But I’d take the ex­pe­ri­ences and ob­ser­va­tions of a Jack Troake over the stud­ies of a sci­en­tist any day of the week.

Now, I have to con­cede that although there wasn’t much ref­er­ence to seals in the ini­tial cov­er­age of the dire prog­no­sis for the cod de­liv­ered by the De­part­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans sci­en­tists, there was a sub­se­quent sug­ges­tion by the fish­eries union of an in­creased cull of seals, and fed­eral Fish­eries Min­is­ter Dominic LeBlanc did seem to ad­mit that seals have been a fac­tor in the de­ple­tion of cod. Where he will take that ad­mis­sion, though, is any­body’s guess, and I’m not op­ti­mistic he’ll take dra­matic ac­tion, if the past his­tory of Ot­tawa pussy­foot­ing with an­ti­seal­ing zealots is any in­di­ca­tion.

Surely, though, there has to be a way to make an ex­panded cull lu­cra­tive for seal­ers, to seek mar­kets for the meat, at the very least, meat that has got­ten a rep­u­ta­tion as the ul­ti­mate ex­am­ple of healthy food.

In any case, be­ing this is spring, the time for the an­nual seal har­vest, I can’t help but note, in clos­ing, a re­cent story about Brigitte Bar­dot who, per­haps more than any­one, em­bod­ied the dis­grace­ful anti-seal­ing move­ment and the per­pet­u­a­tion of New­found­land seal­ers as a bunch of bar­bar­ians.

Bar­dot, the pro­tec­tor of the seal pup, has de­clared that the “vast ma­jor­ity” of women in the #MeToo move­ment are “hyp­ocrites,” that they “teased” movie pro­duc­ers to get roles, and, when they were un­suc­cess­ful, cried foul and claimed to have been ha­rassed.

And, it should be noted, this is the same Bar­dot who has been fined on a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions for pro­vok­ing racial ha­tred in France.

So, the saviour of the seals: an apol­o­gist for sex­ual ha­rassers and a racist.

Jack Troake and I didn’t get around to hav­ing a yak about Bar­dot last week.

Maybe next time.

Surely, though, there has to be a way to make an ex­panded cull lu­cra­tive for seal­ers, to seek mar­kets for the meat, at the very least.

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