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Table of Contents "On the road to Kabul and other short stories of treks"

Baby seal hunt in Newfoundland

Newfoundland has the size of England and a population of only half a million. The Cross Canada Highway is the main road. It starts in Port aux Basques on the South-West Coast and runs to Saint Johnís on the East coast, a distance of some 600 km.

Half the "Newfies" live outside, mostly in Toronto or Calgary. Dominant employment is forestry, fishing and mining but many people are on welfare. They try to work on the lucrative cod or seal hunts for a small proportion of the year and the rest of the year they collect unemployment benefits.

In the mid-eighties when I visited the island, both cod fishing and seal hunt were down. Cod due to over fishing and in addition worms that are spread in the cod-seal cycle, cod would eat excrements of seals and seals eat cod. Strangely, the price of cod and fresh Atlantic salmon caught in the rivers were identical, around 10 dollars a kilo. On the mainland Atlantic salmon was way more expensive as it is considered more a delicacy than Pacific salmon.

Until the early eighties, the large numbers of seals used to be controlled by the yearly baby seal hunt. It stopped with the ban on baby seal skin in Europe caused by Green Peace as they had a successful action banning baby sealskins. In 6 weeks a seal hunter could earn 12000 dollars, a huge income for them. However, the rough fisherman were obliged by law to club the baby seals twice in the head crushing the soft skull to ensure they were dead. Due to the rush in catching as many as possibly they would only give one blow and often the baby seal was still alive and moving, slowly dieing. This gave Green Peace a chance to take the well-known bloody pictures of living baby seals with blood stained heads.

The helicopter company I used to fly into the mountains, Viking Helicopters of Pasadena, near Corner Brook on the East Coast, told me the story. They flew fishermen from boats to the ice floats aided by the recently commercially available GPS system, often through the fog. Finding the seal hunters on the ice to take them back was now very easy. You can image how them fishermen reacted when Green Peace flew in. Violently.

Now the government issues a yearly quota for shooting seals to keep their numbers down by a target killing of in total 250000-300000 seals a year despite the fact that seals in this area have natural enemies like killer whales and sharks. Polar bears you will not find here, the furthest south they come is in Labrador. When one comes down the Labrador Sea, which happens may be once a year, there is an island wide alert and the poor animal is shot.

You wonder why the government insists there is no natural balance. They sound like economic motives as killing seals artificially increases the number of cods.