Seal Hunt Supporters Worry Beatle Star Power Will Have Impact

Commentary by Paul Watson
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Captain Paul Watson comments on the Canadian Press story - his comments in bold print.

Headline: Seal hunt supporters worry Beatle star power will have impact

By Chris Morris, Canadian Press

Friday, March 03, 2006

Link to article:

CHARLOTTETOWN (CP) - Some supporters of Canada's annual harp seal hunt grudgingly acknowledge that Paul McCartney's global reach as a megastar could spell trouble for the hunt's future.

Captain Paul Watson: The visit to see the seals by Paul McCartney and Heather Mills McCartney was a tremendous boost to the movement to oppose the annual Canadian seal slaughter.

Pictures of McCartney and his wife, Heather, frolicking with doe-eyed seal pups on ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence flashed around the world this week, along with a strong anti-hunt message.

Captain Paul Watson: Great news.

By late Friday, the McCartneys had wrapped up taping a heated debate on the controversial hunt with Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams for CNN's Larry King Live.

And in another interview with CTV News, McCartney compared the hunt to the former slave trade.

"It was brutal and it was something that had to stop," he said, adding the same is true for Canada's seal hunt.

Captain Paul Watson: This is a valid comparison.

Proponents of the hunt, including Williams and federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn, have said that anti-hunt activists like the McCartneys don't understand how the hunt works and what it means to Atlantic Canadians.

Captain Paul Watson: I am from the Maritime Provinces. I was raised in an East coast fishing community. I have been opposing the seal slaughter for over 30 years. I fully understand how the hunt works and what it means for Atlantic Canada and the rest of the Nation. I have seen horrific cruelty on the ice. I have witnessed the waste, the unrecovered and unutilized bodies. I have a more complete knowledge of the seals and the seal slaughter than most hunters and certainly more than most politicians. I also noticed that Paul and Heather knew their facts and articulated those facts quite effectively.

But the McCartneys said that's not true.

Captain Paul Watson: And they are right.

"I disagree," the former Beatle said as he headed into a room in a Charlottetown hotel to tape the CNN show.

"We have a full grasp," added Heather Mills McCartney. "We wouldn't be here otherwise."

After the hour-long debate, Williams said Heather Mills McCartney had attempted to interrupt him a number of times, and King had to act as referee.

Captain Paul Watson: Williams also interrupted Heather.

"But there's a point where people who don't respect Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans, and who don't treat us with respect, will get it back in spades from me," he said. "I certainly wasn't going to allow the McCartneys to dominate that interview."

Captain Paul Watson: Too bad Danny. They did dominate the debate and they made the Premier of Newfoundland look silly and unprepared. Danny Williams, Newfoundland, and Labrador are not deserving of respect. As a Canadian, I have absolutely no respect for Newfoundlanders involved in the seal hunt industry and less respect for the Premier of Newfoundland. Asking us to respect Newfoundlanders is like asking us to have respect for the soldiers of the Third Reich. The slaughter of the seals is horrifically cruel and bloody. How can anyone respect these vicious and barbaric butchers or anyone who supports this butchery?

Danny Williams must have a very inflated image of himself to even suggest that he can retaliate against Paul McCartney. The public is not interested in Danny Williams' opinion of Paul and Heather McCartney, but the public is very interested in the opinion of Paul and Linda concerning the seal slaughter.

Williams suggested the pop icon duo were misinformed, noting that Paul McCartney had thought his protest trip Thursday had taken him to Newfoundland, when in fact he was in Prince Edward Island and later Quebec.

Captain Paul Watson: Paul and Heather McCartney were in the same area of the Gulf of St. Lawrence where the seal pups are slaughtered by Newfoundlanders and Magdalen Islanders. I'm sure that if Danny Williams was in Cornwall or Wales he would have referred to himself as being in England. Would he have even known the distinction between Cornwall and Devon or York or Kent? Paul knew where he was; he knew that he was speaking with the Premier of Newfoundland. He addressed himself to the Premier and made it clear that he was in the area where Newfoundlanders killed the seals.

On the other hand, Premier Danny Williams was misinformed. He suggested that the International Fund for Animal Welfare supported the seal kill. This is not true. He mentioned Greenpeace as one of the opponents of the seal hunt and Greenpeace has not opposed the seal hunt for 20 years. He claimed falsely that anti-sealers were being investigated by the F.B.I. There is no evidence of this. He called anti-sealers eco-terrorists without providing any evidence. He even made reference to the "sea hunt" instead of the "seal hunt." He suggested that the seals were primarily killed with rifles not clubs. The seals that I see killed every year are slaughtered with clubs or hakapik. He said that seals are going up fresh water rivers to feed. This is nonsense. He said that the cod were wiped out by foreign draggers when the facts demonstrate that Canadian draggers destroyed the fish. Williams stated that the seal meat was utilized when we have observed that the carcasses are left on the ice.

"They target us because we're a smaller province and it's a smaller industry," the premier said after he emerged from a TV studio in St. John's. "They're not going to take on the beef industry. A seal pup makes a great photo op.

Captain Paul Watson: No one is targeting Newfoundland because they are Newfoundland. The target is the commercial seal slaughter and it is primarily carried out by Newfoundlanders although Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Quebec participate also. Prince Edward Island is a smaller province. He is right to say it is a smaller industry and this smaller industry threatens the survival of the large Canadian seafood industry.

"They're not going to get their photo taken with a chicken. It's just not a good photo op."

Captain Paul Watson: If Paul McCartney and his wife Heather posed with a snail, their picture would be taken. In fact, they have posed with farm animals and have spoken out in defense of humane treatment for farm animals. It was not just a good photo op, it was an excellent photo op.

However, Jack Troake, a Newfoundland sealer with 55 years experience, admitted that the arrival of the McCartneys on the protest scene is a concern.

Troake has seen his share of protesters - from fur-clad B-movie stars to radical vegans - but the McCartneys are in a class of their own when it comes to star power.

Captain Paul Watson: I don't know of a single person who has opposed the seal slaughter who wears fur. However, Troake is right, the McCartney's are indeed in a class of their own.

"I'm certainly concerned about this lad," said the Twillingate fisherman, who can remember when French film star Brigitte Bardot caused a sensation when she showed up to protest the fishery in 1972.

"He's a much more powerful person."

Hearn agreed, but made it clear the Canadian government wasn't intimidated

"If Paul McCartney thinks that he is going to stop the seal hunt, ahead of him there's a long and winding road," Hearn said from Paris, where he is attending an international conference.

Captain Paul Watson: It has been a long and winding road but the opposition to the seal hunt will never surrender. Our movement is growing each year and Canada's image is suffering more and more each year. One side - our side - is gaining, and their side is losing. So it may be a long road down for us and a longer road up for them.

Meanwhile, Bardot emerged from seclusion Friday to slam the hunt.

"Seal hunters are killers," Bardot told Montreal all-news channel, LCN. "Your country is a rich country and you are setting an appalling example for the world."

Captain Paul Watson: Way to go, Brigitte.

Rebecca Aldworth, spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the United States, which organized the McCartney visit, said the couple has given the anti-seal campaign a significant global boost.

Captain Paul Watson: I agree with Rebecca completely on this.

"Paul and Heather McCartney are two of the most visible people in the world and they are two of the strongest animal protection people in the world," Aldworth said.

Jack McAndrew, a P.E.I. columnist who once covered the seal hunt as a reporter, said that while the presence of the McCartneys is a comment on the power of celebrity, he doubts it will have lasting impact.

"It'll be like everything else in this world, today's pictures are gone tomorrow, replaced with real news about the tragedy of more people being killed in Afghanistan," McAndrew said. "In three days, the McCartneys will be forgotten."

Captain Paul Watson: Let me see Jack, Brigitte Bardot went to the ice with me in 1977 and nearly three decades later everyone is still talking about it. So where does this ridiculous idea that this will be forgotten in three days come from? I would think that a media guy would have a better understanding of media than this. I predict that for as long as this slaughter continues, the tape of the McCartney's speaking out against the killing will be distributed and aired over and over and over again.

In 1977, Brigitte Bardot (in orange coat) joined Paul Watson (with mustache, wearing light blue coat)
to bring international attention to the plight of the seals.

McAndrew said that as far as Atlantic Canadians are concerned, he's convinced the McCartney visit will only stiffen resolve to carry on with the hunt.

"The more Paul McCartneys come in here, the more stubborn we get," he said.

Captain Paul Watson: It is this stubbornness that will cost Canada greatly. If the sealers and the politicians choose to remain stubborn they will suffer financially. Their stubbornness is a luxury they cannot continue to afford.

McCartney is calling on the Canadian government to end the annual seal hunt off the East Coast.

The legendary musician told a group of international reporters who accompanied him to the ice on Thursday that the hunt is a stain on the character of the Canadian people.

McCartney's comments were not well-received in Atlantic Canada, especially in Newfoundland and Labrador where the vast majority of seal hunters live.

Captain Paul Watson: The comments were well received by my family in Atlantic Canada and I have a lot of family members in Atlantic Canada. Most importantly, the comments were well received outside of Canada.

"It's not right," said St. John's resident Maxine Collins. "Paul McCartney knows nothing about our seal hunt. It's some people's livelihood. It's done humanely and he should just back off and leave us alone."

Captain Paul Watson: Apparently, Paul knows more about the seal slaughter than Maxine. Obviously, she has never seen it to describe it as humane. She is simply regurgitating the propaganda from the government.

Troake said sealers have a lot at stake financially.

Most of them, he said, are commercial fishermen with big boat payments to make. The hunt offers their first real cash after the winter layoff and it's big money.

Captain Paul Watson: So to earn a dollar from killing seals they are willing to sacrifice two or three dollars from losses because of the Boycott of Canadian Seafood products. If they really needed the money they would not be trading a 139 million dollar loss on snow crabs alone because of the boycott in order to continue clubbing seal pups.

Troake said the average 16-metre boat with a 12-man crew will haul in $100,000 in a day or two of sealing.

Captain Paul Watson: What he does not say is that the owner of the boat (usually the captain) gets half the take after the cost of fuel, provisions, and gear. This leaves about $30,000 for the 11 crew remaining, which means an annual income of less than $3,000 per crewmember.

"The only positive thing in the 2006 fishery is the seal fishery," he said.

Captain Paul Watson: It is a pretty sad state of affairs when the only positive thing in your life is a two-week blood orgy of cruelty and slaughter.

Newfoundland musician Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea added his voice to the hunt debate in a journal entry from the group's current tour.

Doyle said the McCartneys photo op on the ice is misleading to the public and unfair to sealers.

"There has not been a cute and cuddly baby seal hunt in a long, long time," Doyle said, pointing out that Canada has banned the killing of newborn, whitecoat pups.

"Older harp seals are what the sealers are after, but I'll bet these much uglier dudes won't make the final photo."

Captain Paul Watson: The problem is Doyle, that it is illegal to pose with the seals being killed. And a baby seal is a baby seal. My crew have posed with month-old seals many times and they are just as cute. The problem here is that Great Big Sea is a band with a limited audience, primarily in Newfoundland, so it is understandable why he would support the sealers. Paul McCartney is a musician who appeals to the rest of the world where killing seals is obscene and considered cruel and barbaric. That is why Paul McCartney is a household name and Alan Doyle is not. I happen to like Great Big Sea myself but, then again, I'm from Atlantic Canada.