OTTAWA, Tuesday, November 15, 2011
The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and
Oceans met this day at 5 p.m. to study the management of the grey seal
population off Canada’s East Coast.
Senator Fabian Manning (Chair) in
The Chair: It is my pleasure to welcome you
to the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. My name is Fabian
Manning, Senator from Newfoundland and Labrador and Chair of the Committee.
Before I introduce the witnesses, I would like to invite the members of the
committee to introduce themselves.
Senator MacDonald: Michael MacDonald, from
Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
Senator Patterson: Dennis Patterson, from
Senator Raine: Nancy Greene Raine, from
Senator Hubley: Elizabeth Hubley, from
Prince Edward Island.
Senator Harb: Mac Harb, from Ontario.
Senator Losier-Cool: Senator Losier-Cool,
from New Brunswick.
Senator Poirier: Senator Rose-May Poirier,
from New Brunswick.
The Chair: The committee is continuing its
study on the management of the grey seal population off Canada's East Coast
and will hear from the Canadian Sealers Association.
The Canadian Sealers Association was formed in
1982 in response to negative publicity against the sealing industry. It is
based in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, and represents more than
6,000 sealers. Representatives are here today to talk about the role of the
association as well as its objectives and priorities. I am pleased to
welcome Eldred Woodford, President; and Frank Pinhorn, Executive Director.
On behalf of the members of the committee, I
thank you for accepting the invitation to appear before us today. You have
the floor and after some opening remarks, senators will follow with
Frank Pinhorn, Executive Director, Canadian
Sealers Association: Thank you Mr. Chair.
On behalf of the sealers in Newfoundland and
Labrador, we would like to thank the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries
and Oceans for the opportunity to address you today and to respond to any
questions you may have on the sealing industry. We understand that you are
studying the grey seal populations on Canada's East Coast, but we will share
with you our experiences in particular with harps and hoods.
The CSA was formed in 1981 as an advocacy
organization representing the interests of sealers in Newfoundland and
Labrador. The harvest of seals commenced with early settlement hundreds of
years previously and was an integral part of our history, culture, and means
of supporting families in rural parts of the province. In the late 1960s and
early 1970s, the sealing markets collapsed due to intense pressure by public
relations experts enhanced by well-orchestrated videos and unlimited funds,
whose main goal was the support of lavish lifestyles and not the welfare of
The Canadian Sealers Association and our
counterpart, the Northeast Coast Sealers Co-operative , were instrumental in
keeping the sealing industry alive through education, training of sealers,
product diversification and development, and undertaking a public relations
and media campaign to address the misconceptions being spread about the
The CSA is a voluntary organization that
depends on the loyalty and support of its members to operate. In more recent
times, the face of the sealing industry has changed, especially in an
international context. We believe that the CSA has to keep pace with these
changes. Accordingly, over the last 10 months, we have completed an
organizational review and work plan and a five-year strategic plan, which we
are confident will put us on a firm financial footing and will enable us to
undertake and concentrate on the central issues that we believe will lead to
diversification and growth of the industry. The organizational review was
completed by the CSA in conjunction with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers'
Union in Newfoundland, the Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board
and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. It was a joint effort on
the part of all four groups.
In Eastern Canada there are three main species
of seals — harps, hoods and greys. The size of each herd is estimated at
10 million harps and about 400,000 to 500,000 each of hoods and greys; and
the numbers are getting larger every year. They inhabit large geographical
areas, consume large amounts of commercial species, some of which we are
attempting to rebuild, and create a huge imbalance in the fragile ecosystem.
The federal government, as custodians over the marine resource, has to take
this into consideration when formulating policies and making management
decisions with respect to the resource.
Over the last three years, sealers in
Newfoundland and Labrador have harvested only 40,000 seals per year out of a
total quota of 335,000 — about 10 per cent. Prices are at an all-time low.
The industry is being unfairly impacted by other governments and
self-interest groups. The federal government needs to take a more aggressive
approach in dealing with this matter as a trade issue. That is the critical
element today in generating the interests and enthusiasm to rebuild the
sealing industry in our province.
The current management tool for maintaining a
sustainable seal resource is based on the N-70 model, which ensures a
threshold level. However, as a herd increases in size, the threshold level
also increases, and you know where that will lead us. When the herd was
5 million, the threshold level was 3.5 million; today, with a herd of
10 million, the threshold level is 7 million. As the numbers rise, the
threshold level rises.
The basic principle of the CSA is that we
support the wise and sustainable use of all natural resources. In the first
instance, we support a commercial seal harvest. That is the principle of our
The East Coast of Canada has one of the largest
seal resources in the world, and with renewed interest in a food-based
industry for meat, oil and by-products as well as the biomedical application
and with a renewed demand for seal pelts, we believe the industry today is
poised for growth and development. There is considerable interest in China
for all seal products, and we believe this should be pursued vigorously.
As a side note, there have been at least 10
delegations to my office in the past six weeks, all looking for seal meat.
Already there are several shipments prepared in Newfoundland and Labrador,
but they are being unnecessarily held up because of the delay in finalizing
the Canada-China trade agreement. Chinese businessmen have assured us that
they want substantial quantities of seal. They talk about 5,000 to 10,000
There are currently 11,000 licensed sealers in
our province. It is estimated that in terms of annual income, about 15 to 55
per cent is derived from sealing. There are hundreds of workers employed in
processing plants when they are operational and other support industries. I
want to impress upon you that rural Newfoundland and Labrador was settled by
people who depended upon the ocean for survival. That is truer today than
ever in our history. Rural Newfoundland will live and die harvesting marine
One of the main strengths identified in the
organizational review we did was there was general consensus from all
industries that the CSA is best positioned to represent the interests of all
sealers in our province.
We had the concurrence of the provincial
Department of Fisheries, the Fish Food and Allied Workers and the
Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board. We are the main contact
group for seals in Newfoundland and Labrador.
We believe it is essential that all sealers be
trained and certified in all aspects of sealing. We not only have to satisfy
ourselves that it is being done properly; it has to withstand the test of
international scrutiny. The CSA also maintains that training has to be made
mandatory in order to be effective and build a professional industry. The
CSA, in conjunction with other industry participants, agrees with the
three-step process for harvesting all seals but recognizes that adjustments
have to be made for each species and size being harvested.
Our new office is intended to become a focal
point for all activities related to sealing in our province. We will promote
education, training and advocacy for sealers, as well as media and public
relations. We have already redeveloped our website, which is
www.sealharvest.ca. We intend to promote the positive aspects of the
There is one other point we would like to make
about animal rights groups and observer permits they obtained from DFO to
observe the harvest. We told DFO for years that they are too liberal in
giving out the permits and there had to be conditions and restrictions to
them. There should be a requirement for independent observers to go out with
them so whatever they do would be above board and have a purpose.
Thank you for your attention. Mr. Woodford and
I welcome your views, comments and questions.
The Chair: For those that may not be
familiar, could you go through the three-step process that was adopted a
couple of years back?
Eldred Woodford, President, Canadian Sealers
Association: I am a commercial sealer and fisherman from the northeast
coast of Newfoundland. I have been sealing and fishing for the last 23
years. I own and operate a 50-foot fishing vessel.
The three-step process is a regulation that was
put in place last year or the year before. As the Canadian Sealers
Association, we were party to implementing that regulation and forming it.
We had several meetings with DFO dealing with the whole process of creating
this three-step process and getting it into a manner where it could be
workable for sealers. When it was first presented, it was not workable.
When you go sealing you have to stun the
animal. That involves either striking the animal with a hakapik, or club, or
shooting the animal in the head. Then you have to check the skull of the
animal to ensure that both hemispheres of the skull are crushed, leaving the
animal irreversibly unconscious. After that there is a third step, which is
bleeding. It involves cutting both axillary arteries under the armpits of
the seal, which is actually one of the first steps in pelting the seal.
Before we can pelt it, we have to bleed it. We have to leave it one minute
to ensure it is completely bled out before we carry on and continue pelting
The Chair: I wanted to have that on the
Senator Hubley: Welcome and thank you for
bringing forward the information from the sealing group.
Could you confirm the numbers of harp seals,
hood seals and grey seals? I think you gave the numbers at the beginning of
Mr. Pinhorn: The number of harp seals is
estimated at 10 million. Each year the pup production rate is 1.6 million a
When I started with the CSA in 2005, the herd
stood at 5.6 million. I have been with the CSA about six years, and in that
amount of time the herd has gone from 5.6 million to 10 million.
The number of grey seals is estimated at about
400,000. The number of hooded seals is about 500,000. The number of hooded
seals born each year is about 90,000.
Senator Hubley: We are talking about the
grey seals today and the problems that they have produced in numbers.
We have heard from DFO officials and also from
the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council. They noted in their
September 11 report that the non-trivial question of how to practically
remove tens of thousands of seals from a large sub-boreal marine ecosystem
at the rate and magnitude required for adaptive management experiments is
now the critical path. Do you agree with that statement? I wonder if you
might have other suggestions for this committee. Are there other efficient
ways of controlling the size of the grey seal herd?
Mr. Pinhorn: I remember years ago the grey
seal herd was kept under check in Newfoundland and Labrador on the south
coast. We do have small quantities of grey seals in the gulf in Newfoundland
and Labrador and on the south coast.
Years ago there was a bounty in place. If you
killed a grey seal, you would get $5, $10, $15 or $20 dollars or whatever
the bounty was. That kept them in check for years.
I always attended the Atlantic Groundfish
Advisory Committee meetings when I was with the Department of Fisheries and
Aquaculture. There was always concern after the bounty was eradicated that
the numbers were starting to increase. Then we saw increases in worm
infestation in the cod in the gulf. There were cries that the numbers were
getting larger and had to be brought under control.
In Newfoundland and Labrador now, the grey
seals are well into the gulf.
They are going into the northern gulf, which is
up towards Belle Isle. The numbers are getting larger, which is why I raised
the issue with respect to harps. We are assuming we have to do something
with the harps because they are approaching 10 million. We will get to 11,
12 and 13 million, and they will have to be brought into check. We are only
taking out small quantities. They consume large quantities of commercial
species. I believe we should try to do it commercially. In the absence of
that, you know what the choice is.
Senator Hubley: That would be a cull, just
to reduce the herd, without looking, perhaps, at what resources we might be
able to draw from the herd.
Mr. Pinhorn: I have had extensive
discussions with the Chinese over the past six or seven weeks. They are
talking about tremendous quantities of not only the meat but also the
hearts, kidneys, livers and other internal organs. They are talking about
putting processing plants in Newfoundland that would take the whole quota of
harp seals. I assume the properties of grey and hood seals are very similar.
As I said earlier, our first preference is a commercial setting. We believe
that the Chinese market is there.
We met with Minister Fast and with Minister
Peter Penashue at the end of September. We impressed upon both of them that
it is a trade issue. There is product produced in Newfoundland. The
containers are packaged and ready to go. There just needs to be a joint
announcement between the Canadians and the Chinese to get that deal
crystallized and to get on with people going to work. That is our first
Senator Hubley: Thank you.
Senator Patterson: I would like to thank
both gentlemen for the presentation. I am impressed that there are 11,000
licensed sealers in Newfoundland and Labrador. You mentioned training and
the three-step process. Are those sealers trained and able to harvest grey
Mr. Pinhorn: We have 11,000 licensed
sealers. We have training programs put in place that have accounted for
about 3,000 of them. They would certainly be fully versed in the three-step
process, and I know sealers in Newfoundland and Labrador would be able to
Would you agree, Mr. Woodford? They would be
able to harvest any type of seal. They do harvest some greys, as well as the
harps and the hoods. In my mind, they could do either one.
Senator Patterson: You mentioned the
tremendous increase in the populations of harp and grey seals. I understand
that in 1960 there were estimated to be about 13,000 animals. Can you
account for the growth of the grey seal population? Why has it grown to such
an extent since 1960, from 13,000 to between 4,000 and 500,000?
Mr. Pinhorn: It is simple. I did allude to
the fact that there were bounties in place in the 1960s and 1970s. The
numbers were always kept in check because of that. The parasites incur a
tremendous cost to the groundfish in the gulf as well.
When the bounty stopped, the numbers were about
25,000 to 30,000. Seals, as I told you with respect to harp, do multiply
very fast. If you take 30,000 seals and leave them unchecked for 20 years,
this will happen. Even when they opened up the harvest of grey seals in Nova
Scotia, Sable Island was untouchable, which is where the main herd was. They
were only allowed to harvest the periphery areas, and they could never take
more than a few hundred, irrespective of what the market wanted. The main
herd was always on Sable Island.
I grew up in a little village in Trinity Bay
and that area had the only bit of northern cod left when the moratorium was
called. Harps are down there now. When I was growing up, if you saw a few
seals in the latter part of April and May that would be it. Now you see
seals 12 months of the year. They are down there because Random Sound is the
home of northern cod. The stock in Random Sound saved northern cod. The
seals are down there now, and they are there 12 months a year, feeding on
cod, crab, shrimp, turbot and whatever is in the ocean.
Senator Patterson: You mentioned, Mr.
Pinhorn, that your preference would be a commercial harvest. I take it that
would be through developing a market, particularly the promising markets in
Are there other ways of reducing the grey seal
population? You had mentioned a bounty. Do you have any other comments on
other methods of reducing the population?
Mr. Pinhorn: I was working with the
provincial government in Newfoundland and Labrador for 27 years. One of our
objectives at that time was to utilize harp seals. We introduced subsidies
on them for so many years. We bought grinders, and we fed them to foxes and
mink. We did all kinds of things.
There is an avenue for their use as animal
feed. Some things have been worked out in cat and dog food. There are other
things that can be done, in my mind.
When I was with the province, we did a lot of
research through Memorial University and the Marine Institute. There was a
lot of work done at the time. We even did seal protein concentrate, which is
like sugar. You can use it as a food supplement in underdeveloped countries.
All kinds of things can be done with it.
Our last resort is to go out and cull seals. I
am a geographer by profession, and we do not destroy our environment.
Senator MacDonald: I want to go back to
grey seals. The last time this committee met, we had numbers showing the
biomass of cod off the coast of Nova Scotia. You are both Newfoundlanders,
and you know how important the fishery has been to communities. It is no
different in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia is surrounded by small fishing
communities, and the small towns are evaporating because there is no fishing
You talk about how there used to be a small
cull for grey seals in Newfoundland. These are big animals, much bigger than
How did they secure this and collect it? Did
they have to present the animal? How did they monitor this cull?
Mr. Pinhorn: You mean when there was a
bounty on them?
Senator MacDonald: When there was a bounty
Mr. Pinhorn: They would bring in a part of
the animal, the head. There was a bounty of, I think, 10 or 15 dollars. It
was not a large amount.
It was in place in the 1960s and the 1970s.
Senator MacDonald: Is there any difference
in principle in establishing a market for a grey seal product, as opposed to
a harp seal product?
Mr. Pinhorn: No.
Mr. Woodford: To get back to your question,
the problem is not with the market. The market is there; the sealing
industry has never had access to it. The markets are limited because of
The grey seal population is not really our area
of expertise. However, over the last 12 years, being involved with Atlantic
seal consultation meetings, with DFO and with fellow sealers from Cape
Breton, P.E.I., Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, it has been made known that
there were never sufficient numbers of grey seals coming in from the
commercial hunt to go out and promote grey seal products. Sealers were
telling us at the time that they had a quota of grey seals that they were
allowed to go out and harvest but that they were never allowed to harvest in
the areas where it was commercially viable to go and seal, namely, Sable
Island and other nearby islands along the shore. They were not allowed
access to the islands where the seals were. Unlike the harp, which pup and
live on the ice pans, grey seals live on the land. Sealers were restricted
in that manner; that is, in being able to go out and actually prosecute the
commercial hunt that they had. This was a big factor in limiting their
ability to promote grey seals and to market them. The substantial quantities
required to promote the products were just not available to the processors
because the sealers were disallowed from hunting in the areas where they
could actually go out and make a commercial hunt viable.
We have been told this for the last 10 or 12
years. It is a known fact at every Atlantic seal consultation meeting. There
is another one coming up in the Magdalen Islands in January, and we will
hear the same thing again. As a sealer in Newfoundland, when the commercial
hunt opens, I can go out and I can kill seals. Provided they are not within
10 limits or whatnot, I can kill seals wherever I want to kill them or
wherever they end up being found. In the gulf, in the southern gulf and
along the Cape Breton shores and the Nova Scotia shores, sealers were not
allowed to go and harvest the seals. That was a big stumbling block to their
ability to harvest their commercial TACs, thus not allowing enough
substantial product for the processors to go out and promote the products
that they could have.
Senator MacDonald: As I said, these are
fairly substantial animals. They are good-sized animals. If we were to cull
them, what sort of cull would you suggest? Should it be a pup-based cull or
a combination of pup based and a mature animal cull?
Mr. Woodford: Again, they are large
animals. I have never killed a grey seal myself, but I have killed several
hoods. The hooded seal is the largest of them all. We have never had a
problem with harvesting hooded seals, so I do not see a problem with
harvesting the greys. I forget what you asked first.
Senator MacDonald: I am talking about the
best approach to reducing the numbers of animals.
Mr. Woodford: If you are concerned about
rebuilding groundfish stocks, then I would imagine that the best way to
address that problem would be to harvest the older dog seals. I do not know
if people understand this, but a seal is a pretty playful animal. A seal
will go out and he will kill a codfish but he will not eat all the codfish.
He will do what we refer to as "belly bite" them; that is, eat the liver in
the stomach. This could be a reason why there are a limited amount of traces
of groundfish found in seal stomachs; that is, they only eat a portion of
it, but the fish dies. To address the groundfish issue, it would have to be
an adult harvest.
Senator MacDonald: I want to get to another
point here and maybe preface it a bit. In terms of their survivability,
animals are categorized in five categories: extinct, extirpated, endangered,
threatened and vulnerable. None of these animals fit any of these
categories. Their numbers are booming. I have always felt strongly that
successive governments of Canada have mishandled this issue when land-based
mammals can be trapped. To dispatch a harp seal with a hack pick in a matter
of seconds as opposed to leaving an animal in a trap to suffer for days or
for weeks seems to be a bit amiss. In any event, the harvesting of seals
seems to be caught up in world politics and our mishandling of it at this
end. We want that fish to return to Nova Scotia, to the cod fishery. There
is no fishing going on by fishermen in the inshore. For 20 years now it has
flatlined, basically. There is almost no biomass. However, there are other
elements at play that I want to mention. We have things like the Atlantic
whitefish or the Canadian whitefish, which is a rare species that is around
the Tusket River. They are related to salmon, I believe. They are
endangered, threatened, and the grey seal is feeding in the same area as
this species. You are a sealer so you are very familiar with the harbour
porpoise. There are three quarters of a million of them around the world.
They used to be quite common on the Atlantic coast. They are still around,
but they are less common. From what I am reading, there is more pressure on
the harbour porpoise on the East Coast of Canada than in any of the other
areas in the world where it is normally located. These animals are not
particularly big, but have a high metabolism. They can eat 10 or 15 pounds a
day. They are feeding on the same stock that these 400- and 500-pound seals
are feeding on. We know who will win that fight; there is no doubt about
There does not seem to be enough emphasis — and
I think we are all guilty of it — on the burgeoning numbers of grey seals
and harp seals, and the pressure they are putting on not only cod stock but
the other marine-based animals. Has your group looked into the pressures
that the grey seal has put on other marine-based animals? I believe it is
putting pressure on them.
Mr. Pinhorn: In Newfoundland and Labrador,
we have done a lot of work on the stomach content of hoods and harps. They
had done some work on that in parts of the gulf. As I said, the grey seals
are extending further into the northern gulf. I talked to the FFAW about
this and they are still very concerned about it in the gulf parts of
Newfoundland and Labrador. They think that it will be a problem very soon.
When I was with the department, we did samples. We have taken as many as 56
turbot out of one seal. Each one was about a foot and 10-inches wide. You
know what a turbot is. It is a flatfish. We have taken a 5-gallon bucket of
shrimp out of one seal and a whole crab out. They are voracious feeders; we
all know that. They are up in the rivers in Labrador, on trout and salmon.
When you talk to Chief Roy Jones on the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida
Gwaii, he has told me that there are a hundred rivers there that are
decimated. There are no fish left there. He is a member of our association
and he agrees that we need a commercial harvest for seals. They have to be
kept under control.
Mr. Woodford: Further to that, a friend of
mine sent me two photos last year. Right now we are dealing with groundfish.
Believe you me, the groundfish resource is important, but it is very trivial
with regard to the shellfish industry, both in Canada and in Newfoundland.
I received two photos last year of two old
seals that were killed. One had 85 female crab in its stomach, and the other
had 136 female crab plus one male in its stomach. Currently on the northeast
coast of Newfoundland, we are facing dramatic reductions in our total
allowable catches for snow crab, yet we have a herd of 9 million to 10
million harp seals substantially increasing every year, foraging on
everything they can get. It is not only an issue with regard to grey seals —
I know we are here about that today — but the overall picture is that we
have herds of seals that are substantially growing. Every fishery and every
stock of fish is diminishing. It seems to me like no one wants to do
anything about it.
We have had a moratorium in Newfoundland since
1992 on northern cod. We have a mediocre quota of 3,000 pounds per fisherman
on the northeast coast of Newfoundland, yet we have 10 million seals that
are eating us out of house and home. This is a major issue, both in the Gulf
and elsewhere in Atlantic Canada.
Senator MacDonald: I want to assure you
that there are people around this table who would like to do something about
it. Thank you.
Mr. Pinhorn: This past spring, the Chinese
were in Newfoundland. They bottled the product and they had it ordered. They
had to stop production because the Chinese deal was not signed yet. There is
product out there now, and it will not clear customs in China. You can get
it out of this country, but you will not get it into China. You will not get
the papers in place to do so unless the deal is signed first.
As I said, Minister Shea on the television last
week was premature; she should have made a joint statement with the Chinese.
It was done wrong in the first place. I do not know whether it was
intentional or not.
I have been working on the seal file with the
provincial government, the Canadian Sealers Association, since 1980, which
is 31 years. I know it is a difficult subject matter to deal with, but it is
not impossible. There are interested groups in the world. I had emails
yesterday that the Vietnamese are looking for seal meat. This is an
international issue. It is an international issue with the Europeans. They
went over there dealing with a free trade agreement, but for some reason or
another, seals were not treated as a normal natural resource. They have to
be separated, put on a back burner, put in a bucket or put somewhere and
dealt with after the fact. The problem is, after the fact never comes.
Senator Harb: Thank you, Mr. Pinhorn and
Mr. Woodford. I greatly appreciate your comments, especially the last part
of them. I can hear your frustration and your disappointment. You have every
right to be frustrated and disappointed because you, as well as your
industry, have been used as a political football in order to score partisan
points, nothing more, nothing less, and that fact speaks volumes.
I will tell you as a fact, you may not hear
this from many others, but I will tell you as a fact that they are. The
United States shut the market down on you back in 1972. The European Union
shut the market down on you last year. The market will not open up in China,
despite what the minister announced in January 2011. The Chinese populations
are taking defensive and offensive action. They do not like to be force fed
seals. As the minister and others have said, the Chinese will eat anything
and they do not differentiate between one animal and another. Those comments
were not helpful to your cause.
I have to tell you that your producers have
gone and packaged, produced and prepared themselves in order to make
shipment of product based on the minister's comment, when in fact, as you
said yourselves, those comments were very premature. In essence, the
minister has exposed your industry to a massive liability because she did
not do her homework.
There was no agreement. That is an important
point, and I am sure the witnesses want to hear that. There was never an
agreement. We have asked over and over again to find out what the nature of
this agreement is. There was never an agreement. There was some sort of a
communication, a discussion, and a statement made, but there was no
agreement. If you apply and ask for an agreement, there is none.
Knowing what we all know, that the government
is letting you down, as part of your five-year strategic plan, just like
every corporation has an exit strategy as part of their strategic plan, have
you or your members considered going to the Government of Canada and asking,
on behalf of the 11,000 sealers you represent, for compensation because of
the lack of tangible action on the part of the government? You have a right
as an industry to ask for compensation and transition like other industries
have done when we have free trade deals with the United States and we have
set up compensation packages for certain industries. There is also the
minister's statement, which was premature, and I quote, "In retrospect, the
announcement by Gail Shea may have been a little premature." I would
appreciate your comments on that.
Mr. Pinhorn: First and foremost, we have
always maintained that the federal government's position on seals has been
weak. We have always maintained that, even when I was with the Department of
Fisheries and Aquaculture. We have not asked the federal government for
compensation. Our funding comes from the Province of Newfoundland and
Labrador; we have not requested funding at all from the federal government
in any respect, not for the CSA or the industry. We have not done that.
One of the issues we have with the federal
government, and I related this to Minister Fast and Minister Penashue in
September, the federal government does not appear to be serious about the
issue. It is an international trade issue. It is not a fisheries issue
because we had access this year; we could have taken 500,000 seals this
year, which would have kept the numbers down a bit. However, we cannot bring
them in because we have no place to sell them. The price is so ridiculously
low, with ammunition at and all time cost and fuel at $1.20 per litre, for
both to go sealing, it is not unusual for them to pay $3,000 or $4,000 or
$10,000 in fuel. You have to take in a lot of seals at $20 each to break
even, along with your 100 or 200 or 2,000 rounds of ammunition, whatever
they get. It is an expensive undertaking.
Like I said earlier, seals have been in our
history. Newfoundland and Labrador settled on cod and seals 500 years ago.
The Aboriginals and First Nations were using seals long before that. This
issue will not go away.
When the clerk called me to appear here, I
jumped at the chance because I simply what to relate to you that this issue
will not go away and it will have to be dealt with one way or another. As
our friend here said, the senator from Nova Scotia, they have a problem with
parasites in the Gulf, but we will have an even bigger problem than that, as
Mr. Woodford related to. The seals are ranging south further and they are
covering larger geographical areas. There are 1.6 million born each year,
and the numbers are getting bigger and bigger.
When we met with the two ministers in
September, we impressed upon them the need for the federal government to
take a more aggressive approach and to try to deal with this as a trade
issue. We cannot do anything unless the market is there, not a thing. We can
train our sealers, we can educate them and give them all gold certificates,
but it will not do a bit of good until they start bringing in product.
Rural Newfoundland and Labrador depends on cod,
crab, shrimp, turbot, lobster and everything out there, including seals.
There are 11,000 sealers from Maine right down to Cape St. Mary's. It covers
the entire province except for small areas of the south coast, and it has a
tremendous bearing on the ability of rural Newfoundland and Labradorians to
make a living for their families.
Senator Harb: You must be very disappointed
that the government wants to kill 70,000 grey seals and dump them on the
market. They are now looking at ways to utilize the seals. Not only do you
have the problem of not being able to sell the harp seal, you also have the
government wanting to kill 70,000 seals and dump them on the market. How do
you feel about that?
Mr. Pinhorn: I said earlier that I do not
agree with it, and our first and foremost objective is the commercial
development of the resource.
Senator Harb: Thank you very much.
Mr. Woodford: You mentioned the Marine
Mammal Protection Act that was signed in 1974 in the U.S. At the time that
act was put in place, seals were included in it because at that time we had
2.1 or 2.2 million seals and it was considered a conservation issue. In the
last decade and a half to two decades, we have up to 10 million seals, so
obviously it is not a conservation issue. The federal government should try
to promote within the U.S. the opening of that large market for us.
You spoke about the ban in Europe which came
into effect last year. Europe and the U.S. manage seals in a manner similar
to what we are contemplating doing with the grey seals now; a cull — kill
it, destroy it, forget about it.
It would be a crime to humanity to manage our
resources in that manner. That is something that our association does not
want to partake in. However, having said that, as a commercial fisherman who
has witnessed the decimation that the seal herds are inflicting, the time
will come when we will all be promoting a cull of these animals. There is
currently potential to control them with a commercial activity, which will
provide badly needed income to families in rural Atlantic Canada. It would
be a great injustice if our government ended up destroying a natural
resource on our doorsteps that can provide good economic value plus good
nutritional value to the 7 billion people in the world today.
It should be a crime to even contemplate that
there is not a market for these products. If it was promoted and marketed in
the manner that it should be, not one ounce of any seal that is killed
should be discarded. It is our full belief that a sustainable commercial
hunt is far more valid than any cull. However, the market does not currently
exist. There has to be something done to address the grey seal issue in the
southern gulf. There is a lot of support out there to do something and to do
it now rather than waiting until later.
Senator Losier-Cool: Thank you, gentlemen.
I am new to this committee. Thanks to the statistics that you have
presented, I have been made aware of the precariousness of our ecosystem.
I would like to go back to your Canadian
association. You have stated that your association has 6,000 members, but
there are 11,000 sealers. Did I understand you correctly?
Do these 6,000 members come from eastern Canada
or, because this is a Canadian association, do your members come from all
across the country?
Mr. Pinhorn: First, our membership is
voluntary. It is not 6,000 members, but we collect pelt levies from 6,000
sealers. Each sealer pays a fee each year of $25, and for each seal he
brings in he contributes 25 cents to the Canadian Sealers Association. If
100,000 seals are harvested, we get $25,000. It is a voluntary organization.
The number of 6,000 is what we get through pelt levies. Our membership is
actually only about 600 who pay the $25 fee per year direct.
We have members all over Canada. We have
members in Ottawa and the Member of Parliament for Grand Falls, Scott Simms
is a member of our association. He pays us $25 and we send him a copy of our
newsletter to keep him informed of what we are doing. We send out a
newsletter once or twice a year to let all our members know what is
happening in the industry in terms of product development, marketing, et
The 11,000 sealers I referred to is the number
of commercial sealers who are licensed in Newfoundland and Labrador to
Senator Losier-Cool: You have anticipated
my second question. I was going to ask you about how your association is
Mr. Pinhorn: That is why I said earlier
that we are a voluntary organization.
Senator Losier-Cool: To get back to
sealers, did I understand correctly that they are required to follow a
training program in order to learn more humane harvesting methods?
Mr. Pinhorn: We have asked the federal
government to make the training and education of sealers mandatory. We have
been running a program through the Professional Fish Harvesters
Certification Board for three years, and we have about 3,000 sealers who are
trained in all aspects of harvesting seals. We will continue that program
each winter until all sealers are trained. In the meantime, we have asked
the federal Minister of Fisheries to select a date, perhaps in 2012 or 2013,
to make it mandatory that all seal harvesters have to be trained and
Senator Losier-Cool: Who supervises the
Mr. Woodford: It is being done through the
Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board. They train all commercial
fishers in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Losier-Cool: How do you think
Canadians feel about the policy or the politics of seal hunting? You
mentioned the government.
In your opinion, what do Canadians think about
federal policies? Do they realize, as I mentioned earlier, how fragile our
ecosystem is? Are they aware of what you have just told us?
Mr. Pinhorn: When I am asked that question
I always make the comparison between farming cows and sheep, harvesting
moose and deer and elk, and harvesting seals. It is sheer hypocrisy to tell
me that you can harvest a pig, you can harvest a sheep, a moose, an elk, a
deer, a wild boar in Germany — they hunt them by the hundreds of thousands,
and you are telling Mr. Woodford that he cannot kill a seal. That is sheer
hypocrisy. That is what I would call that.
I have driven from Newfoundland to Grande
Prairie twice. I told you earlier I was a geographer by profession. I drove
to Grande Prairie twice to look at the farms in Wisconsin, North Dakota,
South Dakota, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and I saw that the farmers
are like the sealers in Newfoundland and Labrador. They are poor. They try
to earn a living the best way they can from harvesting the land. In
Newfoundland and Labrador, for 500 years they are not harvesting the land,
they are farming the ocean. They harvest shrimp, crab, cod and turbot, and
they have to harvest seals to feed their families. How do Canadians feel
about it? The fiddle player, Ashley MacIsaac, was on the news last week,
wearing his sealskin boots. When I was interviewed from Ottawa, he asked me
what I thought about it. I said he should be made a First Canadian because
he is standing up for our culture, our heritage, more so than the federal
When Michaëlle Jean went to Northern Canada,
she ate raw seal. She would not insult us. She acknowledged that it was part
of what the people do. Part of what the people do in Alberta is farm land.
They grow wheat and do what they have to do to make a living. There are
5,000 people in Newfoundland and Labrador who do the same thing. Jacques
Cousteau said, "Do not tell me you can harvest a pig but you cannot harvest
anything else." The problem with harvesting animals is that the animal
rights groups have seals elevated above all animals on earth, above human
beings. Seals are way up here, and they are untouchable. That is why this
man has a problem in Nova Scotia, because we have 11 million seals now in
greys, harps and hoods, and if we keep on the same path we are treading now,
we will have 12 and 15 million in two or three years. I will be here again
in three or four years if I am alive and you will be still going through the
What do Canadians think about it? Canada was
built on the fur industry. We all know about the Hudson's Bay Company. We do
not have to go into that. It was built on the fur industry.
I was over at the Fur Institute of Canada
today. There were beavers and muskrats there and whatever fur they are
involved with throughout Canada. They are not ashamed of that.
I went to Government House last Thursday and I
had dinner with our Lieutenant-Governor. He gave me a seal bow tie. I said
to Mr. Woodford when I came here today that the only regret I had, I should
have brought the tie and worn it here this evening. That is what I think
about the sealing industry and that is what Canadians should think of it.
Senator Harb: They do not.
Mr. Woodford: Maybe we should look at what
rural populations versus urban populations think of it. That is where you
will see the major difference. As Mr. Pinhorn said earlier, if you go to
downtown Toronto or downtown Ottawa, there are a good many restaurants,
supermarkets and stores selling beef, pork and chicken. Animals died, and
believe you me, nothing makes a sealer proud when he kills a seal. I have
been out to the hunt and been out for days in search of seals before the
hunt opened. I admire that resource. When six o'clock in the morning comes,
the day of the opening, you turn off a switch. You turn off that switch and
you go hunting seals, similar to a farmer who raises 10,000 herd of cattle
or 1,000 pigs or 1,000 sheep. I do not say it gives them great pride to send
them to a slaughterhouse, but in those slaughterhouses things are not seen
or shown. We as sealers have to put up with the scrutiny of helicopters
flying over our heads at 100 yards or 100 feet in the air, taking every
picture of this bloody ice pan. There is nothing pretty about it and it is
nothing that we take pride in.
We take pride in our work, do not get me wrong,
but we do not take pride in killing something. It is a necessity, and that
is what Canadians should understand, and most do, I do believe.
Senator Poirier: Thank you both for being
here and for your presentation. It is greatly appreciated.
We are talking about the grey seal problem and
the eastern coast in Atlantic Canada. I know you are both from Newfoundland
and we are talking about the number of sealers in Newfoundland and we have
touched it a little bit in Nova Scotia. Please educate me. Are there any
grey seals in New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island? We do have seals. Are
they the grey seals?
Mr. Woodford: Yes, there are grey seals in
the Bay of Fundy bordering on the New Brunswick side and the same thing in
the southern gulf on the northeast coast of New Brunswick. They are pretty
much everywhere. Grey seals have expanded now into the eastern seaboard of
the U.S. It was only last week I had emails about seals going as far as New
England and washing ashore.
Senator Poirier: Are there licensed sealers
in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island, or is it mostly in
Newfoundland and Labrador?
Mr. Pinhorn: The majority of sealers are
from Newfoundland. There are 14,000 licences Atlantic-wide, the majority of
which are in Newfoundland.
Quebec has 1,000 or a little better. Nova
Scotia, there are somewhere around 140; P.E.I., maybe 20; and New Brunswick,
there are only three or four.
They are always party to our meetings and the
interest is there in New Brunswick to have trained commercial sealers. With
the limited amount of seals, namely the harp that is of commercial viability
at this time, there is very little interest. There is pretty much an
overcapacity of seal hunters in the gulf. With any increase in commercial
activity with regard to the grey seals, there is considerable interest in
New Brunswick to get involved in the seal industry.
Mr. Pinhorn: The way the share structure of
seals is broken down is that 90 per cent of the quota is assigned to
Newfoundland and 10 per cent to everyone else, which would include the
Magdalen Islands, the Quebec north shore, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New
Most of the seals come down from Labrador and
they inhabit the part of what is normally referred to as the front. A small
portion goes into the gulf, and that is why the bulk, 90 per cent of the
herd, is attributed to the Newfoundland share and the remaining part is
divided among the other provinces.
Mr. Woodford: That is in consideration with
the harp seal. The grey seal is 100 per cent utilized by the Atlantic
provinces — Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick.
Senator Poirier: You mentioned in your
comments the possibility of the agreement with China. That was for the harp
seal, if I understand correctly.
Mr. Pinhorn: It was for all seals.
Senator Poirier: You also mentioned that
the market was there but you do not have access to it. I know you are
referring to the situation with China.
What other market is there? Where are your
other contact markets that you have right now? I know the prices are low and
there is not a lot of access, but are there any other places that you are
selling right now?
Mr. Pinhorn: There is a portion that goes
into Taiwan and a portion goes into Hong Kong. Russia takes the fur because
they still make their fur caps. Some goes to Korea.
Senator Poirier: Is that all harp seal?
Mr. Woodford: It is harp, hood, ringed.
Mr. Pinhorn: They will take any kind of
Senator Losier-Cool: Is there demand?
Mr. Pinhorn: Yes, there is.
Senator Poirier: They say that harp seal
products consist of leather, handicraft, meats for human and animal
consumption, seed oil, original omega 3 fatty acids that are widely believed
to have health benefits, and new product developments such as research into
the use of harp seal heart valves in human surgery, which is ongoing.
With respect to the grey seal, do we know of
any research on what its products can be used for? I know we talked about
animal food and different things, but is there a demand out there, or does
more research need to be done for the grey seal?
Mr. Woodford: Last spring, there was a
Newfoundland company who went to Nova Scotia and got some sealers up there
to harvest a limited amount, so that it could go out and check out the heavy
metal content of the meat to see if it was fit for human consumption. I have
been told the results are that it passed, so there should not be any reason
why grey seal products cannot compete with harp seal products.
With regard to the biomedical aspect of it, I
believe that research that has been done in Quebec involves all species, but
I stand to be corrected. Again, I say if sealers in Atlantic Canada in the
gulf regions were given access to the areas that the seals occupy, there
should not be any reason why a commercially viable gray seal hunt could not
Senator Poirier: When you said that 90 per
cent of the quota was in Newfoundland, and the 10 per cent of the quota was
elsewhere, is that just for harp seal?
Mr. Pinhorn: Yes, it is.
Senator Poirier: Right now, there is no
harvesting whatsoever of the grey seal.
Mr. Woodford: Not in Newfoundland.
Senator Poirier: What about in Atlantic
Mr. Woodford: Last year, there was an
experimental licence issued to a Newfoundland company to purchase 200 grey
seals. It is my understanding, outside of, I guess, the incidental by-catch
and death of grey seals, that that those are the only grey seals that were
harvested last year.
Years before that, they harvested 1,200 or
1,400, again, going back to the sole fact that this is why the processers
have had great problems in promoting the grey seal product. They have had
such a limited quantity that you have not been able to go out and promote
it. Those sealers, right now, have to tackle 60,000 animals. If they were
given access to the seals, I do not think you would have a problem in
harvesting them. I do not think the processers would have a problem
processing them, and I do not think you would have a problem in selling it,
provided the markets were opened.
The Chair: The company that had the
experimental licence, I guess that is probably knowledge —
Mr. Woodford: I believe so. It was the
Northeast Coast Sealers Cooperative in conjunction with Seawater Products,
out of Fleur de Lys, Newfoundland.
The Chair: It might be an idea to have
someone appear before us later with some information.
Senator Poirier: As we all know, there are
movements and groups that are opposing this in a big way. Specifically, the
Senate committee is looking at that right now, and we are getting many
emails. Many of the emails are similar, but we are getting many.
One of the things I have seen come up a few
times in the emails being sent to state their point of view is that the
reduction in the amount of cod and other groundfish has nothing to do with
the seals eating it. They are saying it has to do more with overfishing of
these products, and that is the reason it has been reduced.
In listening to you a few minutes ago when you
spoke about examining a seal that had been harvested, it seems the amount of
shrimps, crabs and other fish that you found inside contradicts a little
what these people are saying. I would like your comments on that.
Mr. Pinhorn: There are places inside of
Robert's Arm in central Newfoundland where seals would draw the cod
literally up on the water. I have videos at home that were sent to me last
winter. A man is up there pushing the fish back into the water. That was
When John Efford was minister in the department
of fisheries and aquaculture, he had divers going into parts of Trinity Bay
and different areas of the province where they took video cameras down.
There is big steak cod down there, three or four feet long, with their soft
tissues removed, which is the liver and what normally is referred to as the
soft tissue, and they are dead on the bottom.
There are all kinds of videos available with
herring, mackerel and cod being surrounded by seals, and they are voracious
feeders. There is a group that takes the periphery, so many go in feeding,
and they just rotate. It is all on video.
For you to tell me that there are 10 million
seals out there — they do not eat chickens or turkeys, and they do not feed
Senator Poirier: Thank you for clarifying
Mr. Woodford: In addition to that, you
mentioned about the foreign overfishing and that fishing in general has been
a factor with regard to the depleted cod stocks. No one can argue against
Back in the 1970s when we had a population of
seals on the northeast coast of 2.2 or 2.5 million seals, and we had an
abundant ground fishery, chances are we did overfish back in the 1970s and
all throughout the 1980s. No one can deny that fact, but we also witnessed
an era where we had a population of seals that grew from 2.2 million, up to
3 million, 4 million and 5 million in the mid-1990s up to 2000, and now up
to 2011, we have gone to 10 million. There is no way any reasonable person
cannot understand that when you have a groundfish stock that has been
decimated, that these predators are not one of the major factors in the
rebuilding of that resource. In Newfoundland, we have had a moratorium since
1992 on codfish, other than a small, basically non-existent commercial cod
When you have populations of seals in that
significant a number, then, obviously, it has to be one of the major factors
in the rebuilding of those ground fishery stocks. To me, as a fisherman,
that is just basic common sense.
Mr. Pinhorn: To let you know the importance
of sealing in our history, in 1834, it was normal for 15,000 men to go out
in 600 wooden boats, and one year they brought in 765,000 seals. That is how
important it was in the 1830s.
If you hear our lieutenant governor talk about
the importance of sealing in our province, our population for years was 20,
30, 35,000, and the reason it hit the 100 and 200,000 level was we were
lighting up lamps in London, Paris and all over the world because of the
seal oil. Seal oil was important then, and seals are important now, but the
time has come for the federal government to deal with it as a trade issue,
up front. It seems to me they are either afraid of it or ashamed of it. I
told that to Minister Fast and to Peter Penashue, and I said we brought it
as far as we can.
We will have our sealers trained and certified.
Winston Churchill said they were the best small boat people in the world. We
will make them even better than that. They will be the best gunners and the
best butchers for cleaning and doing the meat, and they will all be
certified, but we still cannot finish the job until the product can be
released in the marketplace.
Senator Poirier: You mentioned that Canada
had the biggest herd of the seal in the world. What other countries are
harvesting seal right now, and what kind of support are they going?
Mr. Pinhorn: Seals are harvested in parts
Mr. Woodford: Namibia has hunts of
somewhere around 70,000 or 80,000 fur seals. The Scandinavian countries all
have small hunts of different species of seals. Wherever there is a seal
population, there is an activity of slaughtering seals, whether it be
commercial or whether it be seal cull. In a lot of these countries, they
manage their seal populations on a fisheries management issue, which is
something we as Canadians have never ever addressed. It is only now we are
starting to address it as being a fisheries issue. We are behind the ball in
that aspect of it.
As a sealer, the commercial activity should
outplay any cull, and I firmly believe that, but the time has come when, as
we are sitting here this evening, you are dealing with seals as a fisheries
issue. Sooner or later, and let us all agree to this, there will be a major
kill of seals. There has to be. If our markets are destroyed and our markets
are not promoted and our markets are not holding, what a waste of such a
Senator Raine: Thank you very much for
I am from the West Coast. I am not sure if you
have any information on this, but you mentioned the rivers up in the Haida
Gwaii being decimated by seals. I have noticed myself on the coast that
there are a lot more seals than there used to be. I take it this is a
problem on the West Coast as well with overpopulation or the growth in the
Mr. Pinhorn: Absolutely. When we had our
protest three years ago on Parliament Hill, Chief Roy Jones was here with
his full ceremonial attire and everything like that. He fully supported what
we were doing, and he joined the sealers association and we maintain contact
with him. He says that it is a big problem and it will have to be addressed.
The rivers are decimated, salmon and trout. You know their history and
culture is based on harvesting the rivers and harvesting the seals. Once you
get away from it, it seems to multiply very fast and very quickly. Before we
know it, it is staring us right down in our face as a big problem that has
to be addressed sooner or later.
Senator Raine: One question is burning in
my mind. Maybe someone could explain to me why they cannot go and hunt the
seals on Sable Island?
Mr. Pinhorn: It is a reserve.
Senator Raine: What is it reserved for? Who
is in charge of that?
Mr. Pinhorn: Parks Canada, I suppose.
Senator Raine: I would think that in Parks,
for instance, they should be looking at an ecosystem-wide management, and it
sounds like that is not happening. Maybe that is something we should be
Mr. Pinhorn: As I mentioned earlier, the
N-70 rule applies to all commercial harvests. Once you get into this N-70
regime, there are no limits on it and no cap on it. The threshold level
keeps going higher and higher. As it goes up, it cannot come back, because
that is the part that will be high. You want to keep the main part of the
biomass intact for future generations. As the cap rises, it cannot come
Senator Raine: There is no balancing?
Mr. Pinhorn: No, none whatsoever.
Senator Raine: Who sets the threshold in
Mr. Woodford: Back in 2001, we as an
industry signed on to this precautionary approach manner with the Department
of Fisheries and Oceans. A stock or a resource is harvested at a level above
the N-70 level, which is a threshold. When you come down to that, you have
to reduce your hunting or fishing or whatever. As Mr. Pinhorn stated, when
we signed on to this in the harp seals in particular, we had a herd of
5.2 million seals, and at 70 per cent of that, we should never let our harp
population go below 3.5 million. Yet we have watched the herd increase and
increase and increase, and now, the latest count or latest number out there
is between 9 and 10 million seals. Now we are at 7 million seals. This old
precautionary approach, this N-70 level, has just doubled the number of
seals in ten years.
Senator Raine: Are you telling me that
Canada is setting those limits?
Mr. Woodford: Yes.
Senator Raine: DFO is setting those limits,
even those limits that are eating all the other fish? I am shocked.
Mr. Woodford: I forget the name of the
management system that they have now, but it is supposedly a sustainable way
of keeping a resource.
Senator Raine: Silos.
Mr. Woodford: It is out of whack.
Senator Raine: To actually efficiently hunt
the grey seals so that you can sell the meat and make the by-products from
them, you need to have access to where they are bearing their pups, which is
on specific islands. If you are denied that access, then they will grow and
grow and grow and eat everything else in the ocean.
Mr. Woodford: The grey seals fall under the
same regime with the N-70, all seals, so as that population increases, you
will never get Department of Fisheries and Oceans to allow to you bring that
number below that N-70 level. Every year, this increases, that number
increases, and the problem just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
Senator Raine: I would say that there is an
opportunity to change those regulations.
Mr. Woodford: We as an association have
made it clear for the last two years at our Atlantic board meetings that we
want to address this issue and get it put back and capped at the numbers
when we signed on to it back in 2000, which in all intents and purposes was
reasonable numbers. As a sealer, I would not want to see a hunt go out and
decimate a resource that is there for my future and for generations to come.
I do want to see it managed properly. Maybe if our commercial hunts were
never interfered with and we were killing the required numbers of seals each
year, the population may have never grown this large, but the population is
there, the numbers are there, and someone will have to do some work to get
those numbers back down or to put it in a manner where we can bring them
Senator Raine: Why do we issue observation
Mr. Woodford: We have been asking that
question for decades. Apparently, under the laws of Canada, it states that
anyone that wants to go out and witness the seal hunt can apply to DFO. If
they pass their little bit of scrutiny, they get a permit issued to them and
they go out and harass the sealers.
Senator Raine: I do not know any other hunt
that allows observation permits.
Mr. Woodford: Every year, we bring this to
DFO's attention, but we do not get anywhere with it. We have been harassed.
For years, we on the northeast coast of Newfoundland hunted seals anywhere
in excess of 100 miles offshore, because we had huge ice floes coming down
each spring. If you are familiar with the geography of the northeast coast
of Newfoundland, the ice comes down, hits on the northeast coast and then
continues to back up so the sealer that is up in the Davis Strait, up off
Northern Labrador, when that ice flows south it flows along the outside edge
of this land-locked ice floe. We have normally had to go offshore as the
larger vessels to harvest our seals, in some years 150 to 200 miles. In the
last couple years, because of the lack of ice and seals being much closer to
the shore, we are getting harassed in Newfoundland and on the northeast
coast with the IFAW, the HSUS, who go out and get these observer permits
from DFO and have access. For years we have witnessed the troubles I guess
that the poor fellow sealer in the gulf or up in Nova Scotia and New
Brunswick have had to endure with regard to the animal rights crowd and we
have never ever been bothered with it except the last couple or three years.
We on the northeast coast are starting to get
bothered with it, and I do not know what their purpose is. We had some
videos in working with this whole three-step process a few years back. We
worked with DFO. There was a group of approximately 25 or 30 of us. We
worked with the veterinarians who back in 2005 produced a report promoting
the three-step killing method. We got it to a workable manner so that we as
sealers could harvest seals. We had no problem with it, yet all of these
animal rights crowds can go out and get a helicopter, charter a helicopter,
fly it over, take videos of a slaughter, of seals being killed, come back,
twist and turn, and to someone who does not know the difference it looks
We have had some of these videos examined by
our experts, I guess we will say, and nothing wrong is being done to anyone
who understands the process, especially with a seal. When you kill a seal,
it has a swim reflex. It looks like it is still alive but it is dead. The
head could be completely removed but it will still move. Chickens do it too.
These observation permits allow these people the opportunity to go out and
capture these images and manipulate them in a manner that plays on the
emotions of someone who does not know the difference. It does it all. This
is the effect they have.
Another thing they showed — and I do not know
why or how we could get about doing it — in Newfoundland, whenever you see a
seal on television, they show a whitecoat. We have not harvested whitecoat
since 1987, when it was banned. The false propaganda and whatnot that play
on people's emotions is what has got us into this state and what has
destroyed our market. We need help in every which way possible to get these
markets back so that we can have a sustainable harvest of seals and so that
we do not have to sit around tables like this discussing ways to cull a
resource that should be utilized in a commercial manner.
Senator Raine: It would be so good to see
the meat be used, especially when you think of places in the world where
people are starving. Here you have high-quality protein that could be
processed and shipped to them. There is something wrong.
Thank you very much for your presentation
Senator Patterson: We are privileged to
have a commercial sealer with us tonight and I would like to ask a few more
questions about the three-step process.
You alluded, Mr. Woodford, to the distortions
of the animal rights advocates, which are very effective ways of raising
money. Can you describe the tools that are used to commercially hunt seals?
Perhaps, first, you could tell me what tools are used.
Mr. Woodford: Right now there are three
approved methods of killing seals in Canada. One is the hakapick, which has
a wooden handle with a metal furrow on the end of it. I do not have the
dimensions offhand, but there are size dimensions and weights involved in
the measurements of that, so it is an approved tool. We also have a club
that has to be made of hardwood, and it has to be in excess of 24-inches
long, up to 30- or 32-inches long. I could have brought it with me but I do
not have it. As well, we have the rifle. You cannot use just any gun. The
gun has to have muzzle energy of 1200-foot pounds and a speed of 1,800 feet
These are three approved tools that we have as
sealers that we can use for dispatching seals. The hakapick, the club and
the rifle, provided they are within the standards set out by the rules. In
Newfoundland, 95 per cent of seal are harvested with a rifle.
Senator Patterson: I think you have
answered this question already with reference to Senator Raine's question,
but I, too, have been deluged with emails from persons who are, I think,
greatly misinformed about sealing. They talk about seals being decapitated.
They talk about seals being skinned alive. Are those practices that you have
ever seen in your experience as a commercial seal harvester?
Mr. Woodford: Time and time again I have
seen seals shot and heads completely removed from the seal if a bullet hits
it in the right manner. There is a restriction with regard to gun calibre,
but there is no size. You can use a really high calibre gun if you want to.
The higher the calibre, the more destruction you will do to the head of the
seal. I have witnessed many times that the head has been completely severed
I cannot honestly say that I have witnessed
seals being skinned alive. I cannot honestly say that I have not done that,
knowing the fact that there have been times that a seal is irreversibly
unconscious, no eye movement in that seal. Years ago we had the blink reflex
where you touched the cornea of the seal. Even veterinarians said that you
had to be a real qualified veterinarian to see any eye movement to justify
that there was some life left in that seal.
With with regard to going out and taking a seal
that is visually moving about, life still in it, and actually skinning it,
it may have been done. I have never done it and I have never witnessed it,
for the sole fact that when we sell seal products, namely the furs, the
price paid to us is generated from the quality of that fur. One of the main
things in the pelting process is that first cut through that seal. The
straighter it is, the more equal it is with regard to the alignment on each
side of the flippers. This is crucial. If a live was seal flustering
around — and believe me, the sharp knives we use are not like that pencil;
one can cut through three or four inches of blubber. The actual act of
sealers going out and pelting live seals is something that was always blown
out of proportion. It may have been done.
No matter what you do, you do not go out and
harvest 300,000 and 400,000 animals and everything is perfect. If someone is
there at the right time to take a picture of a seal actually moving, maybe
it is a swim reflex. Someone who does not know the difference will say, "He
is skinning that seal alive, which we have witnessed before with regard to
some of the videos.
The purpose of the three-step process is to
eliminate that. You first strike the seal`, stunning it with your hakapik,
club or the rifle. You watch that seal for any directed movement, being any
movement of the head, such as a raising of the head, or any movement of the
front flippers where the seal wants to escape. If we witness any directed
movement, we must shoot that animal again, until there is no directed
movement. When we see no directed movement, we check that skull. If that
skull is not palpated, both sides of the cranium crushed, we must strike
that seal with the hakapik or the club to crush that. When that skull and
cranium is crushed, that animal is irreversibly unconscious, never to feel
pain again. Now, comes the bleeding. We bleed that seal. Once that seal is
bled out, we have a time limit of one minute that we must wait before we
continue on pelting it. Once that seal is completely bled out, then that
seal is completely dead. We continue on with our practices of years ago.
Maybe there was a time, like I said maybe in the rush in things, that
everything may not have been done perfectly. Believe you me, today, every
seal is killed under that three-step process in the most humane way
I was party to the committee that never helped
with the three step process but we worked with it to put it in a manner
where I, as a sealer, could actually seal with it. I have to admit that
years ago we hunted seals with a rush mentality. We were driven by the
number of vessels and the short seasons. We wanted to get seals. I could
send off two of my smaller auxiliary boats to hunt seals. They came back
with 25 to 50 seals on the boats. This was before the three-step process
came onstream. Anyone familiar with the hunting knows that there are times
you could shoot an animal and stun it, and it might not move. You might
think it is completely dead so you put it on your vessel and pile another 25
or 30 of them on the vessel. When you get back to the larger boat, you winch
them aboard. I have looked back from the wheelhouse and have seen a seal
blow bubbles through his nostrils. I admit I have seen it once or twice in
the 25 years I have been sealing. I said in Montreal when we signed off on
it the last time that is the practice I would never ever witness again.
Believe you me, the guys working the deck of my vessel killed that seal
right there and then. If there was one on board a vessel, and it did not
happen intentionally, it was taken care of right away. With the three-step
process, you will never see that again.
With regard to this whole issue of dealing with
international countries with seals, and especially Europe, I was party to a
delegation that went over a few years back. I knew the difference, but I had
a belief that they were concerned about animal welfare. I wanted to work
with them and take any experience they had with regard to animal slaughters
so we could come out with the best possible hunt we could have. Yet, for
some unknown reason, the ban was put in place. It was all about emotion.
They could care less about the welfare of the animal. We Canadians have one
of most humane hunts compared to anything in this world with regard to our
I took a veterinarian on board my vessel three
years ago. He told me he wanted to do some research. I said to come aboard;
I will seal as I always seal and you report it the way you want it reported.
When we finished, he said he had no problem with the seal hunt. He said it
was comparable to anything he had ever witnessed.
Mr. Pinhorn: He compared it to the
Mr. Woodford: No abattoir is 100 per cent
efficient. There needs to be a lot of work done promoting this industry,
some of which is scientific work similar to the work done on my vessel a few
years ago. That was voluntary with no government help or what not.
Before it slips my mind, someone asked earlier
whether anything else could be done with regard to addressing the grey seal
issue. Back two years ago, DFO came out with their plan of either a cull or
birth control methods for seals. DFO was also given a third option from the
Fur Institute of Canada—where I sit as a board member. Maybe some of you are
familiar with the proposal. The Fur Institute of Canada, which is a round
table association of all industry participants — animal welfare experts,
government officials with the environment, wildlife directors, processors,
sealers, hunters and trappers. We put forward a proposal to DFO back in
2010, which was never acknowledged. That proposal meant taking industry and
participants and using the expertise of all those involved to develop a plan
to address the grey seal issue. There was no response.
Maybe this committee should consider meeting
with the Fur Institute of Canada, whose office is based in Ottawa.
The Chair: They are on our list.
Mr. Woodford: He will bring you more up to
speed on exactly what was involved in that proposal.
The Chair: Perhaps you could provide the
committee with the proposal.
Mr. Pinhorn: I have it here.
Mr. Woodford: We are not in a position to
release it. The FIC will release it. You will see the proposal.
The Chair: It will be nice to have it.
Mr. Woodford: The proposal entertained
using industry players, sealers, processors, science and animal welfare
experts to sit down together and develop a plan. The expertise is within
that group from the Fur Institute of Canada to put that plan to work. If the
plan did not work, it meant that there were stumbling blocks somewhere
outside of the expertise within that group, such as areas where you can and
cannot hunt. We should be able to identify within that proposal why we have
had such a problem with addressing the grey seal issue in Atlantic Canada.
As I said earlier, there was no response from DFO. They were given the
proposal twice in 2010.
The Chair: You received no response both
Mr. Woodford: No response. I will not
elaborate. I will leave that to the Fur Institute of Canada.
The Chair: Two senators have put their
names forward to ask more questions, and we are two minutes away from
shutdown. My experience is that neither of them can get a question out in a
minute. We will hold off for another time because we are down to this. I am
sorry; I do not trust either one of you to be a minute long. We said seven
o'clock. It has been a great discussion; and everyone has had a chance to
ask a question. Certainly, I look forward to receiving some more information
from you. Our study will be ongoing for the next several months. We have
plans to travel to Atlantic Canada and Quebec and hopefully gain some more
interest and information. We reserve the right to have you back if need be.
As we progress, if there is anything you think we should be aware of, we ask
that you feel free to pass it on to us through the clerk of the committee.
We appreciate your presence here this evening.
Mr. Pinhorn: On behalf of all the sealers
in Newfoundland and Labrador, we appreciate the opportunity. It is the first
time ever that such a situation as this has developed where we could explain
to you what we are doing and how we want to do it. We are having our annual
meeting in Deer Lake in December. We will tell our board and sealers that we
made a presentation and discussed the issue with you. We appreciate it very
Mr. Woodford: I thank you all and apologize
for referring more to the harp seal over the last two hours. My expertise as
a sealer is with the harp seal. In saying that, there is no reason why we
cannot use that expertise when dealing with the grey seal issue.
The Chair: We understood that; and that is
why we invited you. Thank you for your presence.
(The committee adjourned.)