Gov­ern­ments, or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­mote di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of prod­ucts to cre­ate more mar­kets na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally

The Pilot - - Front Page -

Cull the seals, save the cod.

It’s a pop­u­lar re­frain, heard most loudly in New­found­land and Labrador around this time of year as the Cana­dian com­mer­cial seal hunt is draw­ing to a close and as the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans (DFO) re­leases quo­tas for cod and other ground­fish species.

Even if the fed­eral gov­ern­ment were to put its stamp of ap­proval on a plan to dras­ti­cally re­duce harp and grey seal pop­u­la­tions be­yond the mea­gre har­vests cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enced, what would har­vesters even do with all those seals in a world that is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly op­posed to the hunt?

The list of coun­tries ban­ning the im­port of seal prod­ucts al­to­gether climbed to 35 on the eve of the hunt last month when In­dia — a coun­try of 1.3 bil­lion — joined the likes of the United States, Rus­sia, Mex­ico and all of Europe.

Labrador MP Yvonne Jones isn’t en­dors­ing a cull, but says Canada needs to take more seals out of the ocean if it hopes to cre­ate a sus­tain­able ecosys­tem.

“We’ve shied away from the in­dus­try be­cause of an­i­mal rights groups and greedy (an­i­mal) wel­fare funds that have cap­i­tal­ized on what has been a sus­tain­able, cul­tural har­vest,” Jones told The Tele­gram fol­low­ing a Na­tional Seal Prod­uct Day event at Con­fed­er­a­tion Build­ing in St. John’s last week.

“In 25 years in New­found­land and Labrador we have not seen the resur­gence of cod stocks in a way we’ve pre­dicted and, in fact, to­day the sus­tain­abil­ity of other ground­fish in­dus­tries are be­ing jeop­ar­dized and so is the sus­tain­abil­ity of the shell­fish in­dus­tries. That’s be­cause we have ig­nored the seal.”

Re­cently, DFO re­search sci­en­tist Mar­i­ano Koen-Alonso told the Saltwire Net­work the de­clines in cod are be­ing seen across the ecosys­tem and drops in food sources for cod, in­clud­ing shrimp and capelin, need to be con­sid­ered.

“Look­ing back through these chains since 2014 we’re see­ing lower lev­els of pri­mary pro­duc­tion. The plants in the oceans are not pro­duc­ing as much and from there you have this domino ef­fect,” he said.

At the same time, weaker fish mov­ing out into more ex­posed ar­eas in search of food could also be eas­ier prey for preda­tors, in­clud­ing seals.

De­spite sug­gest­ing that “if we do not deal with the seal pop­u­la­tions, we will not nec­es­sar­ily see full re­cov­ery of our fish pop­u­la­tions” in a House of As­sem­bly com­mit­tee meet­ing last month, provin­cial Fish­eries Min­is­ter Gerry Byrne is not pro­mot­ing a cull, but nei­ther is he agree­ing to gov­ern­ment of­fer­ing new in­cen­tives for seal kills.

Byrne said he would like to find ways to en­cour­age an uptick in de­mand for seal prod­ucts.

He is pro­mot­ing a re­newed ef­fort at the fed­eral level to en­cour­age new mar­kets, both for­eign and do­mes­tic. That in­cludes a fresh push for Cana­dian seal prod­ucts into Asia, but also a joint ef­fort for pro­duc­ers from this prov­ince, Que­bec and Nu­navut for more sales within Canada.

“That ob­vi­ously is the pre­ferred method of re­duc­ing the seal pop­u­la­tion to sus­tain­able lev­els,” he said.

Byrne did not rule out us­ing the At­lantic Fish­eries Fund for a mar­ket­ing ef­fort, but the ex­pen­di­ture there is driven through in­di­vid­ual ap­pli­ca­tions.

“(But) I can see a com­pany be­ing pro­duced to stim­u­late mar­ket in­ter­est, con­sumer in­ter­est … through those funds,” he said.

Jones, mean­while, said the fed­eral gov­ern­ment would like to see more di­ver­sity in seal prod­ucts, sug­gest­ing more op­por­tu­ni­ties for phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tions and food uses, like pro­tein pow­ders.

She also says there should be a big­ger push on seal­skin as leather, as it’s still con­sid­ered a high-priced and heav­ily-traded com­mod­ity.

“I re­ally be­lieve that the gov­ern­ment of Canada, provinces, ter­ri­to­ries and in­di­vid­u­als need to re­ally start putting more money into re­search­ing what those par­tic­u­lar mar­ket prod­ucts could be,” she said.

“I think we need to look at where the de­mands are for prod­ucts and the niche we can cre­ate with what we have. That’s where we need to spend more en­ergy and more of our time.”

Fish, Food and Al­lied Work­er­sUni­for in­shore di­rec­tor Bill Brod­er­ick agreed there is a need for di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion in the quest to find new mar­kets for seal prod­ucts, and said there needs to be more re­search done, par­tic­u­larly into the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal arena.

“Just fancy where we would be if there was some­thing de­vel­oped from seal prod­ucts,” Brod­er­ick said. “Green­peace would slide away quickly if the world was af­ter some­thing that was go­ing to save lives.”

Even with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment show­ing sup­port for the hunt through the oc­ca­sions like Na­tional Seal Prod­ucts Day, ul­ti­mately, Ot­tawa would sooner not deal with the seal is­sue at all, he says.

“They just wish seals would go away, that they could wake up to­mor­row morn­ing and the word seal would never get men­tioned again,” he says.

“That’s not only the politi­cians, that’s bu­reau­crats in Ot­tawa who deal with in­dus­tries in this coun­try, who are fright­ened to death that some­one’s go­ing to shut them down if they’re seen as pro­mot­ing seals. We’re par­a­lyzed by it.”

On the con­trary, lo­cal craftsper­son Clare Fowler, one of the ar­ti­sans dis­play­ing a se­lec­tion of her seal­skin and seal fur prod­ucts at Con­fed­er­a­tion Build­ing last week, said the event and Na­tional Seal Prod­ucts Day “says, un­equiv­o­cally, that Cana­di­ans sup­port the seal hunt as a re­ally won­der­ful thing.”

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