[permaculture] [ARTICLES-LONG] Sealing

dwoodard at becon.org dwoodard at becon.org
Tue Apr 13 18:36:34 EDT 2004

These are a couple of reviews by David Orton of Nova Scotia, of two
informative books on industrial fishing and sealing off the east coast
of Canada. I hope this is of enough interest to justify the post.

It used to be that this kill was subsidized by the Government of Canada
in an apparent attempt to mollify fisherman and help fish stocks (with no
scientific evidence). However, the price of pelts has gone up and the hunt
may be self-supporting.

Doug Woodard
St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada

---------- Forwarded message ----------

		Daring Fishing Revelations

By David Orton

_Sea of Heartbreak: The Extraordinary Account Of A Newfoundland Fishing
Voyage_, by Michael J. Dwyer, with a foreword by Farley Mowat. Key Porter
Books, Toronto, Canada, 2001, paperback, ISBN 1-55263-303-9

   "My estimate was that for every pound of turbot that we threw in the tank,
   we dumped fifty pounds of dead, dying and dismembered fish, shellfish and
   birds back into the sea."  p. 146

	 _Sea of Heartbreak_ by Michael Dwyer is an explosive, powerful, and
needed book. It shows, from personal experience on an offshore fishing
vessel, that going fishing for turbot with gill nets is to participate in a
marine massacre. Dwyer's personal environmental ethics perhaps might be
designated as a form of "progressive anthropocentrism." He is not opposed
to killing wildlife for a living, e.g. fishing, or hunting for food. As he
puts it:
"It is a difficult divide to carry in your soul - that you must kill
creatures to eke out a living and yet respect then enough not to kill them
for sport or pleasure alone." (p. 97)

	Along with seven other crewmen, the author, a Newfoundlander, signed on to
go fishing for turbot with gill nets, aboard a 65-foot steel trawler, the
Styx, in northern Labrador in the fall of 1998. Although he notes that
dragger crews often make more than $80,000 a season, one ironic outcome of
this trip is that the author made no money, because of poor catches. The
enforced 'culture' of the boat was a strange mixture, that included lots of
hymn music, no swearing or drinking on board, but the common belief that
anything in sight could be shot. But it was more than shooting. Offshore
seabirds called "noddies," such as Atlantic fulmars, were caught and
deliberately tortured, by smearing them with turbot liver oil and then
tossing these birds overboard to be pecked to death by other sea birds. A
definition of "garbage" by a crew member to Dwyer, is:
"'Garbage is anything that comes in over the side that we don't ice down in
the hold. On this voyage, anything but number one turbot is garbage.'" (p. 23)

	After reading this account about what Dwyer calls "our ship of death" (p.
191), it becomes clear that a civilization with such a profligate attitude
towards the non-human inhabitants of the marine world does not deserve to
survive. In some sense writing this book could be seen as a form of
absolution for the author, for the obvious guilt he felt about being on
such a trip. He had to observe:
- The 'routine' discarding of the gill net by-catch - the approximate fifty
pounds of discarded sea creatures for every pound of the desired "number
one" turbot;
- The shooting of seagulls, murres, whales, seals, and polar bears - one of
the shooting crew members told Dwyer that dead whales make large crabs;
- The  leaving of nets which continued "ghost fishing" - nets which could
not be retrieved because of rough seas;
- The throwing overboard of garbage and old torn fishing nets.
As Dwyer says on the next to last page, describing crew members shooting
murres, as the vessel approaches home port:
"Greg and Todd fired off the last of their ammo, making whatever came
within shot pay with their very lives. I couldn't wait for this to be over.
I couldn't wait to tell." (p. 203)

 	The author now drives a truck for a living, but he has also been a
sealer. (He recorded his sealing experiences in an earlier book, _Over the
Side, Mickey_.) Farley Mowat, who has written the foreword to _Sea of
Heartbreak_, says that with this book Michael Dwyer "has done what no other
commercial fisherman in Atlantic Canada has dared to do." (p. 11) It took a
lot of courage to write it and name names, because it could lead to the
author being run out of Newfoundland. Yet he took this particular fishing
trip because of needing a job and being hounded by bill collectors.

	This book is a good antidote to myths concerning the romanticization of
those who fish for a living, prevalent, in my experience, on the East Coast
of Canada, among a number of groups: among fisher representatives
themselves, e.g. "the track record of fishermen making sacrifices for
conservation is solid"; among many mainstream environmentalists, who seem
afraid to say anything critical about fishermen, in case they rock the boat
of existing or potential coalitions (for example, against the oil and gas
industry, or for marine protected areas); and among the social justice Left
- with their tendency to eulogize inshore fishermen and the unions of
fishers and plant workers. But a radical ecocentric consciousness informed
by deep ecology, has a basic belief that the ecological community forms the
ethical community. Left biocentrism, the left tendency within deep ecology,
has a concern also for social justice, but this is in a context which
places the well-being of the Earth first. We need honesty, not self imposed
blinders. Social justice for fishers, as for aboriginals, is part of a
wider justice, required for ALL marine and terrestrial life forms. It must
be rooted in a profound respect for all life, and not just human life.

	In my view there is plenty of evidence, for those who want to look, that
treating nature as a "resource" for human and corporate consumption can
desensitize fishers, loggers, or farmers. This book is not an indictment of
all fishermen, and gives examples of those who speak out against the
"sport" or "pleasure" killing of marine creatures. Yet Dwyer does speak of
"the thoughtless cruelty of many of my fellow islanders who lived from the
sea." (p. 97)

Common ground?
	There cannot be coalitions of fishers, environmentalists and others, at
the expense of the Earth or nonhuman life forms. We have to change our
consciousness in how humans relate to the natural world. In the industrial
fishery, it is not just corporate domination that needs to be opposed.
Fishers, like loggers, find it hard to rise above self interest. Marine
coalitions cannot mean trading one's moral integrity in the interests of a
false unity and just concentrating on the practical task at hand, because
someone may be offended if the truth is spoken.  _Sea of Heartbreak_ will
help radical environmentalists to speak the truth when building marine

	Although a handful of East Coast fishermen have been at the foreground in
the fight to protect deep sea corals, to oppose dragging the sea bottom and
other gear-type and corruption issues, the claim that there is a
conservation track record by fishers is highly inaccurate. Leaving these
progressive efforts aside, the general claim to caring about conservation
rests on carrying out certain measures to protect an anthropocentric and
economic self-interest in the fishery. The dark side illustrated by Dwyer
is seldom mentioned publicly by fishermen.

	For those seeking fundamental change, it is essential to see that fishers,
like loggers, have come to have a stake in the continuation of industrial
capitalist society, with its destructive lifestyle. For example, inshore
lobster fishermen can 'sell' their lobster licenses for hundreds of
thousands of dollars when they choose to retire, illustrating quite
graphically how a so-called common fishery has essentially been privatized.
Fishers, including those in the inshore smaller boat fishery, have a real
stake in the present industrial model, whatever the anomalies that cause
dissatisfaction from time to time. Basic values are accepted, and fisher
interventions generally seek to work with, not take down, the system's
political and economic leaders and their version of capitalist democracy.
When fishers finally speak out publicly for the protection of ALL marine
species, including seals, cormorants, dogfish and the diminishing bluefin
tuna, and call for extensive no-take marine protected areas, then the
assertion of a conservation track record could be seen as accurate.

	This book, I believe, as well as describing a voyage of ecological
destruction, also can serve to raise theoretical issues for consideration
among radical environmentalists. It deserves to be widely read, and is
movingly dedicated by Dwyer, "to the creatures mentioned within."

September 1, 2001

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


_Over The Side Mickey: A sealer's first hand account of the Newfoundland
seal hunt_, by Michael J. Dwyer. Nimbus Publishing Ltd, Halifax, Canada,
1998, paperback, ISBN 1-55109-253-0

	I read the above book AFTER reading _Sea of Heartbreak_. I had a lot of
trouble obtaining _Over The Side Mickey_ and finally managed to obtain it,
after writing my commentary on Dwyer's most recent book and posting it on
the internet. What struck me in _Over The Side Mickey_, was the
backwardness of Dwyer's attitude towards wildlife - here seals - as
contrasted with the views expressed in the later book, _Sea of Heartbreak_.
So, unless Dwyer had some kind of environmental "conversion" between the
writing of the two books, something is not quite right here.

	The sealing vessel, written about in _Over The Side Mickey_, was a
sixty-foot long-liner, which went on a trip into heavy ice off Twillingate
in Newfoundland, in April of 1997. The author writes as an integral part of
the crew. He recounts well the disgusting, dangerous and hard life of
sealers. Seals are shot from the sealing vessel and then retrieved by one
of the crew members going on to the pan ice and bringing the seal back on
board. There is also some hunting from a small motor boat carried on board,
when the weather permits. The main tension on the ship, as described by the
author, is between the skipper and his son on one side, and the rest of the
crew members. Apart from the uneven financial rewards, neither the skipper
nor his son do any of the dirty and hard work of retrieving the seals,
butchering the seal carcasses, and stowing these and the furs below decks.
Dwyer quotes a Newfoundland saying that serves to bring out the class
differences between skipper and crew: "It's a swell ship for the skipper
but it's a 'hell ship' for the crew."

	Seals are described in denigrating terms by Dwyer and are commonly spoken
of as eating "our" fish - meaning that the fish are seen as 'belonging' to
fishermen.. (See for example, pp. 62 and 88.) Crew members mouth slogans
like "Take no prisoners! Shoot to kill!" (p. 103) Referring to the killing
of harp seals which had been shot, Dwyer says, "I viciously bashed in their
skulls with my gaff." (p. 51) He does not express any disapproval of the
"harvesting" of seal penises, which have to be 6 inches long or more, and
earn an average of 70 dollars each. (p. 73) Sealers are described as
"barbarians" and the author says, "If you didn't become barbaric, you
didn't last." (p. 112) He shows that many seals were not killed instantly
by shooting, but were still alive when being butchered on deck. Dwyer's
book lends support to the view that I share, that it is the killing of the
seals itself which is barbaric. It will turn those who do the killing into
modern day barbarians.

	The disgust that Dwyer expresses in _Over The Side Mickey_ is personal. It
is the last time he will go seal hunting, we are told. But his disgust at
the atrocious hardships faced by crew members is quite divorced from any
identification with the hunted seals or more generally with wild Nature.
The modern day annual seal slaughter ("hunt") is seen by many, including
myself, as an enormous crime against wildlife, perhaps without parallel in
our contemporary world. As I have written elsewhere (see Green Bulletin #68
on Ecofascism), "There seems to be a hatred directed towards seals (and
those who defend them), which extends from sealers and most fishers, to the
corporate components of the fishing industry and the federal and provincial
governments, particularly the Newfoundland and Labrador government... The
seals become scapegoats for the collapse of the ground fishery, especially
cod. A vicious government-subsidized warfare, using all the resources of
the state, becomes waged on seals."  But Dwyer, according to this book,
sees none of this.

September 29, 2001

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