Japan to start Seal Hunting in Hokkaido
Problems caused by human overfishing are again being used to victimize sea mammals in Japan as Japanese seals as blamed for the dropping numbers of fish.
Prefectural authorities in Japan have announced plans to start killing spotted seals using the same “pest control” rational that they use to give licenses allowing the killing of 23,000 dolphins and porpoises each year.
Calling it an “expert liaison committee” promoting “coexistence between humans and seals”, they seek to start culling the sea mammals in a bid to fight “persistent seal-inflicted damage” on Hokkaido’s fishing industry. In neighbouring South Korea, spotted seals have been designated a “Natural Monument No. 331″ and, in China, an endangered species.
The committee, which will be launched by the end of March 2012, will be responsible for investigating and sharing information on the so called “damage” inflicted by the animals, including counting of seals living in the area. One prefectural government official called it, “a matter of life and death for many local fishermen” claiming that seals ate approximately 300 million Yen ($3,900,000 US Dollars) of damages in 2010.
According to officials, it is estimated that over 11,000 spotted and harbor seals inhabit coastal areas in Hokkaido, although the exact number remains unknown. Harbor seals are a protected species and their hunting currently forbidden. Historically, they had been hunted to make leather, oil, gelatin and fertilizer; the kill reaching over 6,000 year by the time of WWII.
Seal watching is also one of the key tourism resources for the relatively poor prefecture. Visitors flock to areas photograph the popular sea mammals, affectionately known as goma-chan, which are going to be shot.
The committee is expected to try and address the problem in a way that allows then to carry out the cull without disturbing this following the Japanese model for dolphin and whale watch which co-exist with drive hunting as practised in Taiji.
“For now, we cannot tolerate them just because they are cute,” said an official of the Yagishiri fisheries cooperative in Haboro. “We hope we will find a way to peacefully co-exist with them”. A single spotted seal is said to eat around 5 kilograms of seafood a day and their eating habits challenge the livelihoods of fishermen in the area.
The seals traditionally come to the Hokkaido in autumn and leave for northern waters in spring. Observers suspect decreasing ice floes caused by global warming are the reason for their increasing numbers.
Yagishiri probably offers seals a comfortable stay with abundant food but it remains a mystery why they have advanced to the Sea of Japan unless changing conditions in the northern oceans are fully understood. They eat cod, flatfish, salmon, herring and octopus and are often found dead as ‘bycatch’ in fishing nets.
Fishermen are known to shoot any seals attacking fish in their nets. Many also die in salmon trap nets along the Nemuro Peninsula. Shooting is not a humane death. In a 2007 Canadian study, 82% of seals shot did not die from the first bullet. Another showed that only 15% of seal deaths during hunts are carried out according to legal methods.
The fisheries cooperative in Rausu applied for permission to kill a number of seals from 2004. The fisheries cooperative in Yagishirito island and the town of Shimamaki applied starting in 2006 and 2007, respectively.
The spotted seal is threatened by climate change because their habitat consists of the ice front at the southern edge of the sea ice, an area that may change due to global warming. In China, the Dalian Seal Sanctuary, a nature reserve established in 1992 at Liaodong Bay in the Bohai Sea, is being upgraded to a national level in order to protect them from illegal hunting, loss of habitat, shortages of food and disturbance.
Meanwhile, many seal corpses and chronically sick seals are being discovered on the Russian and Alaskan coastlines. Experts are investigating whether such unknown illnesses have been caused by radioactive poisoning from Fukushima reactor following its damage by the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. Traces of radioactivity have been discovered.
Put simply, the reason for the slaughter of seals is financial and ignore the man made ecological disaster which is happening in the seas around Japan. Japanese fishermen have hunted many species of fish to the point of extinction. Many are already 90% depleted. Japan eats 6 times more fish than other developed nations and is hunting the oceans dry, and so it seeks to remove all other consumers of what little stocks are left.
Human beings have options, seals and seal lions don’t. We don’t have to eat fish to survive. The alternative to killing dolphins and seals is to increasingly adopt a plant based or vegan diet.
The usual argument used to defend this is that “eating fish is traditional” in Japan, a fallacy promoted vigorously by the Fisheries Agency. It is hard to imagine how eating Tuna from spain or whale from the Antarctic can be “traditional”. It is not.
Before Westerners came to Japan, Japanese “traditional diet” had been primarily plant based, nearly vegan, for 1,000 years. People were only able to eat a small percentage of the amount of sea food they eat today.
The only way is protect the environment and increase food security and self-sufficiency within Japan is to return to a primarily plant based diet.
The government of Japan has also set quotas for killing sea lions.
International environmentalists and local fishery advocates continue to debate the issue as by the 1940s, Japan had already hunted to the point extinction its own species of Japanese Seal Lions, trawlers harvested as many as 16,500 sea lions a year.
Sea lions were captured for the circus trade and exploited for their fur and oil as their meat was not suitable for eating. Certain internal organs were also valuable in Oriental medicine and their whiskers used as pipe cleaners. However, the main reason for the extinction of the Japanese Sea Lion is thought to be persecution by fishermen.
The last died as targets for military shooting practices.