Dear James W. Balsiger:
Friends of Animals, an international animal advocacy organization, recommends the adoption of Alternative 2: No Action — with a zero quota set by NMFS for the “Harvest Range” to eliminate the slaughter of northern fur seals on the Pribilof Islands of Alaska.
In 1979, on one sad morning on the Pribilofs, I watched with horror as teams of U.S. Government employees rounded up and slaughtered more than 1,000 fur seals. The Friends of Animals team stumbled upon a great pit, just west of Telegraph Hill. The pit was filled with several hundred thousand seal carcasses.
Back in the village of St. Paul, we asked several Aleut natives why the seal meat wasn’t eaten. We were told that the oceans were too polluted, and the seals had high levels of heavy metals in their flesh. Those environmental issues are unabated today.
Friends of Animals led the successful campaign to end the commercial slaughter of fur seals on the Pribilofs by persuading the U.S. Senate to not ratify the treaty the U.S. had with Canada, Japan and the Soviet Union. The treaty lapsed, and no longer were seals clubbed to have their skins divided with Canada and Japan.
Toward the end of the treaty, U.S. government officials acknowledged what Friends of Animals had been saying for decades — fur seals were seriously declining, but government employees resisted the obvious — that the commercial slaughter of a quarter million seals in one decade contributed to a population decline. Government scientists were willing to point fingers at entanglement in fishing nets, pollution, , and other problems not of their own making.
In 1987, Friends of Animals successfully established,
through suing the Department of Commerce and NOAA, that fur seals were a depleted species under the MMPA. Since then, the fur seal population has continued to decline, yet a subsistence kill allowing 2,500 seals to be killed is granted by the National Marine Fisheries Service for the Islands of St. Paul and St. George.
Federal biologist Rolf Ream from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, charged with investigating the fate of fur seals in the Bering Sea, told the Anchorage Daily News reporter Doug O’Harra in an article dated 9/6/04 that there is “no sign of recovery” for fur seals, and “no reason for the decline.”
Biological arguments underscore the fact that the National Marine Fisheries Service has been incompetent with its “management” of fur seals. Government biologists interviewed for the Anchorage Daily News claim that 1,100 male seals have been slaughtered each year for food since 1997. They also remarkably refer to this as “a fraction of the number” that can be killed without causing a population decline.
During a phone conversation I had with Charles Fowler, the leader of NOAA’s systemic management studies program in Seattle on 8/23/04, Fowler said that seal-killing is “dwindling due to lack of interest.” He claimed that humans are wasteful, and that the seals’ problems are human-caused: entanglement, human population growth, commercial fishing, and global warming. That’s basically what Friends of Animals heard three decades ago when NOAA’s scientists were unwilling to address problems of their own making.
Fowler said he thought the Aleuts may eventually stop killing seals “if we don’t tell them what to do.” This is in contrast to a phone conversation I had on 10/15/04 with a employee for the Tribal Government on St. Paul Island, who spoke about the availability of food sources from the island’s grocery market, food deliveries by aircraft, and fishing. When told that the seal population had suffered a serious decline, and that a halt to the annual slaughter could help reverse the decline, she said: “Some of us don’t want to eat white man’s food.”
In an Associated Press article by Mary Pemberton dated 8/20/04, which appeared in the Anchorage Daily News, Fowler said: “This year’s count in the Pribilofs recorded 9,978 adult males — a decline of 23.8 percent from 2003.” He added that numbers of “harem bulls fell as well, from 4,368 in 200, to 4,046 in 2004, or about a 7 percent decline.”
Rolf Ream told the Anchorage Daily News (9/6/04)that seal “pups counts don’t look promising either.” Ream said: “From 1998-2002, pup counts on the Pribilofs dropped more than 5 percent per year. The eastern Pacific population was estimated at 888,000 in 2002, about 70 percent of the number of fur seals throughout the Pacific.”
Friends of Animals proposes Alternative 2: No Action to halt the destruction of fur seals, and to bring an end to terrorizing them on their rookery islands with clubs and knives for the benefit of seals and their human neighbors.
President, Friends of Animals