A Feb. 10 commentary in The Buffalo News titled, "Let's urge Canada to stop killing baby seals" included a number of misleading and erroneous statements regarding the seal hunt in Atlantic Canada. While respecting an individual's right to support or oppose the seal hunt, as Consul General for Canada in Buffalo, I feel compelled to respond to this criticism with accurate information on the policies and principles governing the seal hunt.
The annual seal hunt is an important industry and a time-honored tradition for people in Canada's coastal communities. This is a valuable natural resource that provides employment and income in remote towns and villages where few other economic opportunities exist. Unfortunately, this industry and its importance to thousands of Canadians is often misunderstood and misrepresented.
The harp seal population in Canada is healthy and abundant. The population is nearly three times the size it was in the 1970s. This is due, in large part, to the strict conservation measures Fisheries and Oceans Canada has in place and to Canada's commitment to the sustainable management of all seal populations.
Charges are frequently leveled against Canada for allowing the hunting of baby seals -- this simply is not true. Since 1987, Canada has strictly prohibited the hunting of harp (whitecoat) and hooded (blueback) seal pups. Regulations implementing this 1987 ban prohibit the trade, sale or barter of the fur of these pups.
The government of Canada makes every effort to ensure the seal hunt is conducted in a safe and humane manner. A recent report in the Canadian Veterinary Journal concluded that virtually all seals are taken in an acceptably humane manner. To guarantee adherence to government policy and sound conservation principles, the hunt is closely monitored and tightly regulated. Canadian fisheries officers conduct regular at-sea surveillance and dock-side checks to ensure that the rules are being followed.
A multiyear management plan for the seal hunt is currently being developed and will be announced prior to the opening of a harp seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which normally starts in mid-to-late March. The plan will be based on sound conservation principles and a commitment to strong, peer-reviewed scientific advice.
Quotas are set at levels that make the continued health and abundance of the herd the main priority and, contrary to the views of many detractors, are not an attempt to assist in the recovery of fish stocks. Seals and cod exist in a complex ecosystem that precludes easy analysis or simple solutions to problems such as the lack of recovery of cod stocks.
I appreciate that there are many views surrounding the taking of seals. While societies are free to engage in a debate about the relative merits of the seal hunt, there should be no debate about the facts of the seal hunt.
For further information on the Atlantic Canada seal hunt, I encourage you to visit the following Web site: www.dfo- mpo.gc.ca/seal-phoque/index_e.htm.
Stephen Brereton is the Canadian Consul General in Buffalo.