Paul Watson Challenges John Crosbie on the Seal Slaughter

Commentary by Paul Watson
Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

John Crosbie, whose family fortune was based on the slaughter of million of seals wrote a column for the Toronto Sun this last weekend.

I was scheduled to debate Mr. Crosbie last month in a forum organized by the CBC and the National Film Board. Crosbie, the former Conservative Minister of Fisheries, got weak in the knees at the last moment and cancelled the debate. He obviously did not think he could win a debate with me, even on his home turf in Newfoundland.

Now, he has written an article entitled Seal Hunt Helped Us Survive. And you can bet that it did indeed, at least for one particular Newfoundlander - namely himself. The Crosbie family made out like pirates sending men off to the ice floes, some to die, some to return owing the Crosbie family store, and others to return with a few coins in their pocket after a month on the dangerous ice floes gutting seal pups. You can also bet that there were no Crosbies out on the ice doing the dirty work. John himself was privileged to attend the best private schools in Britain and never knew a day of want in his life. He certainly never killed a seal or even saw a seal being killed.   

It really is amazing to see multi-millionaires like Crosbie and Premier Danny Williams defending the seal slaughter in the name of survival.

So because he would not debate me, I will reply to the arguments he poses in this Toronto Sun article:

The Toronto Sun

Seal Hunt Helped Us to Survive

by John Crosbie

ST. JOHN'S - Why do Newfoundlanders so strongly support the continuation of the seal hunt?

Because it made possible our survival as a people. Because it advanced our economy and helped us overcome the sometimes harsh and hostile environment in which we live. Because we honour our forefathers and mothers who worked so hard and endured so much to establish an enduring society on our island and in Labrador. Because we must resist the attempts by groups such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to attack and deplore our seal hunt for their own selfish purposes.

Captain Watson: Newfoundland is not a "have-not" province. With oil deposits offshore, the provincial economy is in the black. The Crosbie family accounts have always been in the black. With this newfound wealth, it is time to put the archaic industries like sealing to rest. Newfoundlanders do not need sealing to survive today. They need to address the damage they have done to their environment - the species they have exterminated and extirpated. They destroyed the cod fisheries, thanks in large part to John Crosbie who, as Minister of Fisheries, was more interested in fattening the pockets of his friends in the industry than in preserving the species.  John Crosbie was one of the primary people responsible for the destruction of the cod fishery and now he is advocating for the destruction of the seals.

To understand our support for the seal hunt, you must know a little of our history and culture.

Captain Watson: I know a great deal about Newfoundland history and culture, in fact more than most Newfoundlanders do, and I see nothing in this history or this culture to justify this continued obscene slaughter of seals.

Newfoundland was settled because of access to cod and survived because of the supplement of the spring seal fishery. No one was ever assisted to migrate to or settle in Newfoundland, since British Colonial policy was hostile to settlement in Newfoundland; favouring a monopoly of the fishery for the fishermen and merchants of England who sent out fleets of vessels every spring to fish until fall.

Captain Watson: What Crosbie neglects to say is that Britain actually marooned hundreds of convicts in Newfoundland who were forced to settle Newfoundland by necessity and not by choice. Those who settled initiated a policy of genocide against the aboriginal Beothuk peoples and annihilated them. None exist today. These same settlers exterminated the walrus, the sea mink, the Newfoundland wolf, the Labrador duck, and the white bear.

In Newfoundland settlement was discouraged by the "mother country" from 1633 onwards, with those who did being harassed and forced to leave their homes and fishery premises. Those who moved to settle in Halifax had their travel paid and their living expenses as well for their first year of living in Halifax!

Captain Watson: And don't forget that those who settled forced the Beothuk Indians to leave their homes and hunting grounds, and they did not get to move to Halifax - they were exterminated!

No one could obtain secure title to land in Newfoundland until the early years of the 20th century. Until 1904, almost half of our coast was known as the French Shore, with the French having the right to settle and fish. Even when the French shore was eliminated, France still retained the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, less than 10 miles from the south coast of Newfoundland, creating difficulties and disruption in the fishery.

Captain Watson: And the French have been able to live on these islands without slaughtering seals, two tiny islands of European sophistication within sight of the culture of slaughter on the big island of Newfoundland.

We have not forgotten that when Sir Robert Bond, then prime minister of Newfoundland, negotiated a free trade treaty with U.S. secretary of state James Blaine in 1891, the treaty was vetoed by Britain at the urging of Canada, which feared the damage this might do to Canadian trade with the U.S.

Captain Watson: The Free Trade Treaty negotiated by Crosbie's Conservative government in Canada with the United States was not so great for Canada. Britain probably did Newfoundland a favor by vetoing the agreement in 1891.

However, it may have been a good thing because if such a free trade agreement had been forged between Newfoundland and the United States in 1891, this could have led to Newfoundland becoming a State of the United States and if that had occurred there would be no seal hunt in Newfoundland today because of the Marine Mammal Protection Act passed in 1972. All of the seals would be protected by law.

These memories encourage us to support the seal fishery despite what the urban population of North America or Europe may think.

Captain Watson: Crosbie admits that Newfoundlanders are encouraged to support the slaughter not from need but from "romantic" memories of archaic activities that were not so romantic at the time.

However, the people in Europe and the rest of North American have every right to oppose savagery and they are within their rights to use economic pressure to force an end to barbaric cruelty and ecological destruction.

The seal hunt today is not the seal hunt of our historic memory. The days of sailing vessels, wooden-wall steamers and steel vessels are over. The hunt that remains is conducted by small inshore vessels of 65 feet or less which no longer are permitted to take "whitecoat" or "baby" seals (since 1987).

Captain Watson: The seals killed are baby seals. A harp seal does not cease to be a baby seal after 14 days. A seal pup that cannot swim and is defenseless to escape the clubs is not an adult no matter how Crosbie tries to spin it. A baby seal is a baby seal. The number of seals being killed annually now exceeds historic kill levels. 

We believe that the present hunt is closely and carefully managed and as humane as a hunting operation on vast and dangerous ice floes can be.

Captain Watson: Just because Crosbie and Newfoundlanders believe that the seal slaughter is humane and well managed does not make it true. How can a hunt be well managed when every year the quota is grossly exceeded? How can the hunt be humane when hundreds of cases of cruelty have been documented? As Joseph Goebbels once said, "If you tell a lie often enough it will become the truth."

This is obviously what Crosbie is trying to do, but continually saying that "a baby seal is not a baby seal" will never make it the truth.

The seal hunt is, as is the cod fishery, a proud background to this province's present survival and improving economy, with our latest struggle for prosperity the ongoing battle with the federal government over revenues from and the right to manage and regulate the development of oil and gas off our shores -- all of which we brought into Confederation in 1949.

Captain Watson: Newfoundland, since joining Confederation with Canada in 1949, has been a taking province and a financial burden to the rest of the nation. They were the welfare family out on the East Coast, always complaining and never satisfied. They had a choice in 1949 to remain a colony of Britain, go independent, join the States, or join Canada. They chose Canada primarily because of the baby bonus. Canada would actually pay them to have babies. That is why every Newfoundlander, like every other Canadian, receives a monthly cheque for every child they have. The day the family allowance or baby bonus cheque arrives also happens to be the biggest business day of the month for pubs, bars, and liquor stores especially in Newfoundland. 

Mainlanders should not forget that it was the killing of beaver and the fur trade that enabled Canada to be opened up and created the wealth that resulted in such cities as Quebec and Montreal.

Captain Watson: Absolutely true, John, and that was a travesty that I deplore and I oppose the trapping of beaver today. In fact, freeing beavers from traps was my first experience in activism way back in 1961 in New Brunswick. Fortunately, the scope of trapping beaver has been much diminished and beaver enjoy a great deal of protection thanks to people like Grey Owl, Farley Mowat ,and others. You have the oil now so leave the seals alone. 

No wonder the 19th century anti-confederation song in Newfoundland warned:

With our face turned to Britain
Our back to the Gulf,
Come near at your peril, Canadian wolf!

Captain Watson: I should think so John. After Newfoundlanders exterminated the Newfoundland wolf, any wolf would be cautious about returning to Newfoundland. At least the wolf survives in the other provinces.

Paul Watson was raised in a small New Brunswick fishing village. He is the eldest of seven children, raised by their single mother - a poor family that did not depend upon killing to survive. Unlike John Crosbie, he did not attend private schools and worked and paid for his own education.