The fisheries department for a second year is concealing the size of Canada’s Atlantic seal hunt. Official claims of confidentiality follow disclosures the cost of monitoring the annual hunt is worth five times the export value of seal products.
“They are continuously subsidizing this thing,” said Andreas Krebs, spokesperson for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “If we don’t have access to the data, then Canadians can’t make a decision on whether or not they want to support this with their tax dollars.”
The department censored figures in a 2016 Seal Quota Report requested by the Fund through Access To Information. A similar 2015 report was also redacted.
“We had a good relationship with the Department of Fisheries for decades in terms of them providing information to us,” Krebs said. “There seems to be a tightening of information the department is making available to stakeholders. Until 2014 most of this information was freely available on the internet, and then they stopped publishing it.”
The IFAW had requested details of the landed value of the 2016 Atlantic hunt; the quantity and value of seal meat and pelts; and the number of licensed sealers who joined the hunt. The department withheld data under a confidentiality clause of the Access To Information Act exempting release of public records “which could reasonably be expected to result in material financial loss or gain” to a third party.
The fisheries department confirmed it will not release the records. “Since there are only a small number of participants and buyers in the seal hunt, this makes it possible to extract confidential business information from landing and value statistics,” said Carole Saindon, spokesperson; “This measure is to protect the privacy and economic interests of participants in the seal fishery, where there are a very small number of them.”
Access records have indicated the fisheries department and Canadian Coast Guard spend $2.5 million a year monitoring the Atlantic hunt, though the export value to 2014 was worth less than $500,000. “The Government of Canada spends a fortune,” said one staff memo; “These costs are beyond the capacity to absorb from traditional budgets.”
Surveillance expenses totaling $975,000 in 2007 more than doubled to $2.5 million a year by 2009 including $1 million for a Coast Guard icebreaker; $475,000 in helicopter rentals; $400,000 for high definition long-range cameras “capable of identifying a person at one mile”; and $375,000 in staff overtime. Costs for the RCMP were not tabulated.
Seal exports that peaked at $34.3 million in 2006 collapsed under a 2009 European Union ban on Canadian products. The World Trade Organization three years ago upheld the ban that saw the price of seal pelts fall from $100 apiece to as little as $20.
By Dale Smith