Mr. David Bevan (Assistant Deputy Minister, Fisheries and Aquaculture Management, Department of Fisheries and Oceans):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll try to keep it as short as I possibly can to allow for questions. I'll go through the deck fairly rapidly.
The objectives for the hunt are sustainable use, conservation, humane hunting practices, and the fullest possible use of the killed animals. One thing we want to make clear is that we do not have an objective to limit the size of the population for the purposes of trying to control the ecosystem. We did have that question put to an expert panel, and they were unable to provide advice; it's far too complex a web or food chain, and we could not determine any rationale to limit the size of the population.
“Fullest possible use” is a policy we seek, but it's really dependent on markets. It's not something we are able to require, but it is an objective we would pursue, although not through regulatory means.
I think people are quite familiar with where the hunting takes place--on the front, off of Labrador, or around the Magdalen Islands. This year that wasn't the case as much. We had the hunt take place more to the north.
Looking at slide 4, we have six species of seals. The vast majority of the seals killed in the hunt are harp seals because of the large size of that population. We have TACs for hooded and grey seals as well. There are no quotas for ringed, harbour, and bearded seals, although those are taken in aboriginal subsistence hunts. The majority of the hunt takes place between March and May, with the March opening in the gulf and the April opening in the front.
In the seal hunt we have established an objective-based fish management process and also the precautionary approach. We have set conservation limits that will dictate the actions we take when those limits are reached. We also have set those limits based on the highest estimated population, around 5.5 million in 2001. That actually has gone up somewhat since that time. The population hasn't gone up but the estimate has increased to 5.8 million, I believe.
In slide 6 you'll see that we have some zones for the management of this population. The limits are noted there. The maximum observed is 5.82 million, and 70% of that gives us 4.07 million. Between 4 million and 5.8 million is a zone that we feel is quite safe to manage the population in that area. We leave debates on the TAC with the industry, and setting TAC, predominantly for socio-economic reasons, in that zone. However, should we reach lower than 4.07 million, then we would start changing the management regime to focus more heavily on conservation. That focus on conservation would further increase if we hit the buffer at 50% of the maximum, and at the end limit, 1.75 million, we would stop all hunting.
So as we move down in the population toward those limits, our focus on conservation would increase to the point where below the 50% level we would have a very significant pressure on us and on the industry to move back into the safe zone above 4.07 million.
Those are already understood by the sealing industry. They know that we would shift our focus if we got into those levels of population. I think the interest of all is to keep the hunt in the area where we have the opportunity to pursue markets, etc. That's above 4.07 million, and that's where we're trying to keep the population so that it provides the maximum yield for the industry.
In terms of consultations, every five years we have a new survey, a detailed survey of the population based on overflights, exhaustive counting of the animals, and analysis of the data. That then triggers a seal forum. The last one was in 2002, I believe. It was then because we had the last available data, but we upgraded that data last year. Last year on November 7 and 8 we had a seal forum, where we invited a large number of people from 200 groups; 100 attended. That was followed by a seal advisory committee on November 9 and 10 to deal with access and allocation issues.
The forum sets the conservation framework for the five-year plan, and the advisory committee deals with the specifics of the individual year. The advisory committee on November 9 and 10 was to deal with the plan for 2006. What we would do is have another advisory committee to go over the 2006 seal hunt, and that would be used to make changes for the 2007 hunting season.
The results of those consultations were that we set out the framework, as you saw before, with the conservation limits and the understanding of how the rules would change in the event the population fell. That was set out for the 2006 to 2010 period. We did not, however, set out a TAC for those years. We left that to the seal advisory committee to set the TAC on an individual year in conjunction with the scientific advice and whatever happened the previous year in the hunt--under or over--and what the market conditions will bear. So there'll be no multi-year TAC this time, unlike the previous plan, but there will be setting of the TAC after those consultations.
For 2006 we set the TAC at 325,000 animals, with a 10,000-animal reserve for aboriginal hunting in the Arctic and for personal use hunts. We are looking at adjusting the TAC of 10,000 for hooded seals. We should have a survey on hooded seals, and that will allow us to revise the hooded seal TAC. Having said that, the 10,000-animal TAC is not taken; hooded seals are not taken more than a few hundred animals each year. That may change in the future.
Regulatory and policy changes are being contemplated. We're looking at working with the independent veterinarians working group to determine if anything should be done in order to make the hunt even more humane than it currently is.
We're looking at new licensing criteria. We had a licence freeze in the past. That is going to be reviewed due to the fact that there have been shortages of crew to work on the sealing vessels. We're going to have to work with the industry to re-evaluate how to go about the licensing.
Vessel registration requirements for small boats are going to have to be considered. We've had a problem with hails. People are hailing late and hailing low. They may have 100 animals on board and we may be told there's 50; they only upgrade it later on. We have to deal with that so that we can have a better handle on the number of animals being killed on a daily basis.
We're going to have to consider some move on the blueback issue. We have a regulation that prevents hunting on the youngest animals--in harp seals, the whitecoats. Until they start to moult and turn into beaters, we don't have the hunt. The hooded seals actually moult in the womb the first time, and then at around a year or 18 months, while they're in the blueback stage, they're completely independent. The question is, would we change the regulations to allow some hunting on that? There are strong views on both sides of that issue. We're going to be discussing all those issues with the industry stakeholders and interested parties.
On enforcement, we have at-sea inspections from large vessels, small vessels, Zodiacs, aircraft overflights, dockside and plant inspections, vehicle inspections, observers on sealing vessels, vessel hails on a daily basis, processor and buyer receipts, and VMS for the longliners, the satellite system that tells us where the longliners are located. So we have a large investment in monitoring the hunt on an annual basis.
It is the first big fishery that takes place in Atlantic Canada, the first economic opportunity for many people, and this year it's been a very important contributor to people's bottom lines. Without this, many people would not be making a go of it this year.
Proper sealing methods are a big issue. We want to make sure that the animals are killed very quickly and humanely, that they lose consciousness irreversibly and almost instantly. We're looking at the proper use of firearms and in some cases the hakapiks and clubs. In any regulated activity, there's always some non-compliance. In 2005 we had 50 charges, for example, and about 30 charges so far in 2006, with 37 warnings.
So in terms of accusations that these are unregulated activities, that's clearly not the case. We do have numerous warnings and charges. But to put that in perspective, there were about 14,000 licences issued this year; you can see that the vast majority of participants are complying with the requirements.
In addition, we have seal hunt observation licences. There were 73 licences issued this year from 97 applications. We declined to offer licences to 24 applicants. There were 60 licences issued in 2005, and 42 in 2004, so the interest is obviously going up.
In 2006, seven Humane Society of the United States members and a Reuters freelance photographer were arrested. The investigation on that is ongoing. Charges have not yet been laid. That remains an open investigation.
In 2005, 12 unlicensed observers were fined $1,000 each after being charged and convicted.
That, Mr. Chairman, is the presentation. We're open to any questions the members may wish to pose.
Hon. Lawrence MacAulay:
Yes, but it's very heavily monitored, and it's fair to say that the problem we have as an area, as a region, is the way we present the issue worldwide.
I flew over with McCartney to Prince Edward Island from Halifax. You'd think there was a lord on the plane. Well, I don't dislike McCartney--he's a great musician--but I had no desire to touch him, because what he was doing....
It's comical, but the truth is that these people were coming to take a livelihood away from people who need it. I don't like that, and I told him so. I don't dislike him as a person, but if you make a billion dollars some way in this world and then decide you're going to use it to destroy the livelihood of hard-working people, I don't like it.
A voice: Hear, hear!
Hon. Lawrence MacAulay: That's what we have to fight against. I believe that is one of the biggest problems. We've got celebrities in the world.... This is a big issue. The picture they had in newspapers around the world--it was great, funny, cuddly, cute. But all it did was indicate to all the people who have a few dollars to donate that we're people who are barbarians, who don't care, who kill just at will. That is one of the biggest problems we have.
On page 10, you talk about how this is monitored. You talk about the small boats and how they're monitored. I think we have to be awfully careful about how we give our information, and make sure that when we talk about the small boats, the figures are kept well, and you know how many seals are taken.
The fact is that the population has not decreased, it has increased. But when you listen to the world media, you would feel.... I don't know whose fault it is, but we're not presenting the issue properly.
Mr. Norbert Kalisch (Director General, European Union, North and West Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs):
Thank you very much.
I'd like to start by thanking the committee for this opportunity to make a short presentation on the latest developments in Europe with regard to the seal hunt.
As you know, the annual seal hunt season in Atlantic Canada continues to attract a lot of media attention and to trigger protests and negative political reactions in Europe. While Canadian authorities explain that the seal hunt is sustainable, humane, strictly enforced, and an important economic and cultural mainstay for coastal communities, many myths continue to circulate.
Dramatic photos of the hunt provoke intense emotional reactions that are circulated by influential NGOs such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Humane Society of the United States. These and other local European NGOs accuse the Canadian government of protecting an unnecessary and cruel practice that's out of step with the caring and respectful image normally projected by Canada.
Increased quotas announced in the three-year management plan in 2003 for the Canadian seal hunt sparked renewed media coverage and protests in the last two years. Public declarations by such personalities as Paul McCartney, Brigitte Bardot, and Pamela Anderson against the seal hunt generated media interest in many European countries.
Despite Canadian efforts to provide and explain the facts, negative and sometimes misleading media coverage continues. Canadian missions in Europe--that is, embassies, consulates, and consulates general--receive tens of thousands of protest letters each year, and are sometimes subjected to various forms of intimidation by local animal rights groups, including threats and damage to embassy properties. This year and last, street protests were fewer and more peaceful than in 2004.
Working in very close support and with direction from Ottawa, particularly from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, our missions in Europe have been both proactive and responsive, as circumstances permit, to explain the facts about the seal hunt to the media, the public, and local government officials, who often are in possession of incomplete or outdated information. To assist in these efforts, early in 2005 the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade began organizing advocacy training and briefing workshops for both Canadian and locally engaged embassy personnel responsible for communicating the facts on the seal hunt. Throughout the year, we maintained an efficient virtual network with missions and ensured that consistent messaging was being provided across Europe.
We work in very close collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on the production of information and communications tools suitable for European audiences. We have copies here of our brochure, Six facts about Canada's seal hunt.
In consultation with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, we provide advice and support to missions in dealing with protests, media, and government officials. For example, since the fall of 2004, senior officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, sometimes accompanied by academic specialists, have visited France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the U.K. at our request to make expert presentations on the seal hunt and to respond to questions. These visits are intended to lay down the factual and scientific groundwork in an attempt to encourage a rational discourse to the extent possible.
To complement the experts' visits initiative, in March of this year the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade organized, on a trial basis, a visit to Newfoundland by print journalists writing for newspapers based in the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. The opportunity to expose European journalists to the Canadian reality and perspective resulted in reasonably balanced articles.
Concerns regarding the hunt have provoked debates, parliamentary resolutions, special hearings, reports, and draft legislation in national parliaments in Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Italy, and at the Council of Europe. Import bans have so far been proposed in Belgium and the Netherlands. Canada has made its view known that the proposed import bans on Canadian seal products are inconsistent with the Belgian, Dutch, and European Community's obligations under the World Trade Organization agreement.
In commercial terms, imported seal products would compete with the “like” non-seal products that are produced domestically. These trade bans would modify the conditions of competition in the domestic market, since non-seal products could be sold while seal products could not. This would violate the national treatment obligations under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and under the GATT.
In our view, these trade bans would also be more trade-restrictive than necessary to fulfill the legitimate policy objectives. On this basis, the measure is inconsistent with the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The trade bans are inconsistent with the national treatment obligations under the GATT. The general exceptions found in article XX of the GATT would not justify the bans.
For western Europe as a whole, Canadian exports of seal products have grown steadily over the last several years, rising from $550,000 in 2001 to $12.9 million in 2005. The largest single importer is Norway, which imported $6.8 million of seal pelts in 2005. The commercial impact of proposed import measures seems modest at present, but the impact on future exports of Canadian seal pelts to Europe remains difficult to estimate. So far in Europe, there have not been any successful moves to boycott Canadian products in general.
I understand that this committee has decided to undertake a mission to Europe in the fall of this year. I am here to assure you of my department's fullest support toward the success of your mission. We should be realistic, however, in terms of what we can expect to be able to achieve. European parliaments take action because sectors of public opinion in these countries are very strongly against the seal hunt, and parliamentarians believe they would be representing their constituents' interests in banning seal products. Public opinion is not necessarily well informed, and this could be at the core of the message you could convey to your European counterparts.
This is not a battle that we are likely to win in the court of public opinion or on the front pages of newspapers. Our goal is to set the record straight and limit misinformation. Since there are many misconceptions around Canada's seal hunt, we would also recommend that your visit, your mission, include an expert who could respond with a high degree of credibility to the technical side of the humaneness and sustainability of the seal hunt.
In summary, I believe a carefully conceived and well-informed parliamentary mission to specific European countries would be constructive in conveying a reasoned Canadian message on the seal hunt and in helping European legislators gain a balanced perspective.
I'd be happy to take any questions.
Mr. Scott Simms:
Obviously we've never been married.
When I went to Europe, I spoke to the European Council, and one of the things I've noticed in the past little while....
This document, which wasn't prepared by you, says the following:
||A preliminary draft recommendation...prepared by the secretariat of the Committee on the Environment....is surprisingly balanced, and does not call for an outright ban of the Canadian seal hunt and the importation of all seal products.
This particular draft recommendation is what they're now concerned with.
Now, that's not really what I got from that, because I think we are dangerously close to many of these assemblies of individual nations having an outright ban on seal imports. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I'm seeing a lot of grassroots support for the outright ban of seal hunting, and with no information whatsoever; that we all know.
What scares me is when I see nations like Norway--correct me if I'm wrong--subsidize, at certain levels, discarding seal products in order to get out of the industry. Call it rumour, call it conjecture, call it what you wish, but what I see, from this draft report, is not particularly balanced, or not the way we like to think it is.
Are you familiar with this draft recommendation? I'm assuming you are.
Mr. James Lunney:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'll just confine my remarks to a comment and then I'll pass it over to my colleague in a moment.
I want to applaud the department for engaging in communications and for preparing our embassies and our officials to deal with what really is a communications war. I think maybe we've been a little slow as Canadians to understand that when we're dealing with the American humane society, which really fuels off the emotion thing for fundraising, and we're dealing with Europeans, who are very much emotionally tied up in these things, we face a very intensive communications challenge.
As Canadians, we've been a little bit naive on this, perhaps, that if we're nice, and if we just make our case, it'll be all right. But we're dealing with a very emotional issue, and we've been badly beaten up. I'm glad to see we're ramping up or muscling up on the communications side to actually engage.
My own take is that the only thing more powerful than misinformation--or lies--is the truth. It has to be played skilfully, and I applaud you for ramping up the efforts to get the message out. Ultimately we certainly can do that. It's not something that Newfoundland can fight alone, and it's time that all of Canada stood behind this. Of course there are Atlantic and Quebec interests as well; we all need to work together.
We're hoping that as a committee we can make a difference by going over there. I personally believe we can communicate to the members of Parliament over there that there are some communications challenges there, and perhaps they will understand that there is a realistic approach to this but Canada's not backing down. We're hopeful that we can contribute to raising the awareness that Canada is not going to back down. We're going to defend our interests.
I applaud you for the efforts you're making in that department.
Mr. Norbert Kalisch:
Thank you very much.
On your comment, I'll say two things. We've had comments from ministers and political figures in Europe to our heads of missions that, “You know, I kind of agree with you, but you'll never see me admit it; you can fully expect me to be out there in the ramparts to fight and speak for a ban.” That's just the way it is. It's that kind of political situation.
As I said, one needs to be realistic in terms of trying to change public opinion. It's good to inform ministers and technocrats and officials in Europe, but as long as public opinion is against this...and it's a freebie for them. These people, these countries who are threatening the ban, import practically nothing in terms of seal products. It's a very easy way to garner votes and to appear to be on the right side.
So you know, your battle, our battle--we're kind of fighting hard to stay in the same place; I wouldn't say we're making particular progress. That's why you need to attack them on the trade aspects. Or Mr. Simms talked about an open abattoir. Well, there are standards for abattoirs. Perhaps we could get the Europeans possibly to talk about standards, as we had done very successfully with leghold traps. We won that one.
That kind of approach would look at standards, at acceptable standards. If they sign off on standards, and we sign off on some, then something could possibly be done.
Mr. Fabian Manning:
Thank you. I know our time is limited, Mr. Chair.
First of all, I'm pleased to see that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade certainly seems to be supporting the Canadian seal hunt. It's important to our province, because a lot of times we feel that one of the barriers we have had over the years was in relation to promotion of our seal hunt.
One question I have to ask is that there is some consideration being given, I know in our own province, of banning the likes of Paul McCartney and company from protesting, appearing at, showing up on--whatever way you want to word it--the ice floes during the seal hunt.
I'm just wondering, from an international perspective, if the government or the minister took that action and did not allow it.... I mean, there are so many hunts that go on in the world, from my understanding, where protesters are not allowed. There's danger in being on the ice floes, interfering with the work--not just the livelihood, but the work--of the seal hunters themselves.
If that action were taken by government, how do you think that would be received internationally?