In Defence of the Seal Harvest

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue Windhoek Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Abraham Iyambo yesterday vigorously defended the country’s seal harvest, saying it was a necessary part of a sustainable resource utilisation policy. The minister’s media conference was apparently called to pre-empt possible questions that might arise from a statement issued by the ministry on the seal harvest. Iyambo urged critics of the seal harvest not to focus exclusively on the issue of seals, but to look at seal harvesting in the context of worldwide environmental degradation and suffering. “Issues of natural resources should be discussed, but people should not concentrate on one single issue. There are children going to bed without food every day, which is also related to issues of the environment,” he said. Cabinet recently endorsed a recommendation made by Iyambo to allow the harvesting of 6 000 seal bulls and 85 000 seal pups during the current season lasting from July 1 to November 15. This is an increase from last year’s 5 000 bulls and 65 000 pups, but the minister described the increase as “minimal”. He said there were very specific reasons for the increased number of seals being harvested, related to sustainable resource utilisation and keeping the marine eco-system in balance. Namibia Venison & Marine Products at LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz received a quota to harvest 38 050 seals, while Seal Products and Cape Cross seals, both based at Cape Cross near Henties Bay received quotas of 32 950 and 20 000 seals respectively. Iyambo said most communications received from groups opposed to the seal harvesting did not disagree about the need to utilise seals, but the methods used were their main concern. The methods used in Namibia are shooting for bulls, and clubbing seal pups with pieces of wood over the head. It is the latter method that has aroused widespread condemnation. “People complain about the methods, but we have not received suggestions on better methods,” Iyambo responded. He dismissed the idea of rather shooting seal pups as being impractical, because the pups are too small to make this option viable. “There is no other appropriate method. We have tried shooting pups and it’s not a good method,” he argued. A press statement issued by the ministry stated that according to the latest available biological information, seal stocks in Namibia were currently in a healthy condition and that the Cape Fur Seal was not in any way endangered. The seal population in Namibia had in fact enjoyed an overall recovery rate of 73 percent, compared to the 1993 level. The ministry said the total number of adult seals was estimated at 700 000, of which pups were around 185 000 based on numbers at 86 percent of colonies found in Namibia. It estimated that seals consume on average 985 000 metric tonnes of fish a year in Namibian waters, compared to between 500 000 and 600 000 caught by the fishing industry. The Fisheries ministry recently detected that most fish in the country’s waters were small fish, meaning they needed protection. The ministry therefore reduced Total Allowable Catches of some of the most commercially important species such as hake, as a management measure.

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