Will Seals Decide the Future of Rural N.L.?

The recorded number of harp seals in the North Atlantic, up to 1982, was 2.2 million.

At that time, with the implementation of the 200-mile-limit, the inshore fishery had rebounded somewhat and fishermen were making a living, rural Newfoundland and Labrador was doing very well. Many fishermen were making a living off lobster, herring, squid and salmon, fishing out of an 18-foot boat.

Enter the bleeding hearts and movie stars who decided to make a name for themselves by interfering with the seal harvest that helped sustain rural N.L. With their big names and access to the news media, the hunt was brought to a standstill in the early 80s.

At the same time, there was a huge pressure put on our fisheries. We were told by our politicians we would not be able to harvest all the fish.

We built up our inshore fisheries but larger boats, ice-strengthened dragger fleets, expanded rapidly. Foreigners were increasing their factory freezer trawlers and allowed into our waters with the blessing of the Canadian government and a capelin fishery was introduced to Canadian fishermen, as well as foreigners.

There was a deal made with Russia in exchange for Barents Sea cod (because ours was getting scarce) involving a quota of 50,000 tonnes a year for five years off the Labrador coast. I witnessed their ships on my way back from Makkovik when my season was over.

The first year they caught 50,000 tonnes, next year 1,000 tonnes, and they had cleaned it all up in one year. That was the beginning of the end for the Labrador coast. No capelin, no food for the cod and other species, because no seals harvested.

The 2.2 million seals started to explode and come south earlier each year because there wasn’t enough food in the north to sustain their growth. I witnessed it  and it was recorded in my logbooks in the 80s.

Next, add a new fishery on the Labrador coast, shrimp factory freezers fishing 24/7, 365 days a year, catching shrimp and everything else in their path.

Labrador had a moratorium two years before it was officially called as people in that area couldn’t catch enough fish for their winter.

Fast forward to March 5, 2021 in Fleur de Lys, N.L. Sealers harvested seals with their stomach full of crab, a valuable resource.

All of the Canadian fish stocks are on a quota (fishing to the limit) but our seal herds have exploded because of not being hunted. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans estimated seven to eight-million harps several years ago.

People who know the industry would estimate at least 10-million plus seals and yes, they do eat fish. In 2020, although there was a market for seal products, DFO decided not to open the hunt. Our fish stocks are declining, some of the most hard hit are the capelin, herring and cod, which are in the worst shape after 30 years of a moratorium and you still have to get permission from Ottawa to get one to eat. The latest news is our salmon stocks are close to extinction in some rivers.

In 1990, I was fishing out of St. John’s, along with many more longliners from the northeast coast because there was no cod anywhere to be found, (left Makkovik for the Grand Banks), although there was very little to be found, except in 3NO where when any longliners were caught fishing there, they were arrested and towed into St. John’s, while the foreign fleets were allowed to fish away.

So, what are we going to do about it, sit on the wharf and twiddle our thumbs while mother Ottawa and our seven MPs do nothing, like Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burns?

We have upset the balance of nature in our oceans and the writing is on the wall for this province and the other Atlantic provinces if some action is not taken.

We have fish stocks that are in danger of collapse which will destroy our rural communities. What will happen to our urban centres when that happens (I don’t have to explain)? Where are the protesters now? They don’t care about the other part of the ocean, our salmon, cod, etc… No one is protesting the slaughter of the last few remaining caribou in Labrador, but I guess these are not cuddly.

The last time a politician did anything to deal with the seal problem was Premier Danny Williams and a good job he did, but it failed, all because he didn’t have the backing of our provincial or federal politicians who don’t seem to give a damn about rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

On Monday, March 15, 2021, Prime Minister Trudeau gave a company $50 million to provide work for 135 people making batteries. Just imagine if we had that much put into rebuilding the seal industry, it would provide thousands of jobs processing seal products and the fish that the seals did not eat.


Wilfred Bartlett

Green Bay South, N.L.


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