The Fur Institute of Canada has reached what could be a new low. According to recent news reports, last year, it presented the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) with a plan to sell penises of grey seals to be used by predominantly Asian buyers as aphrodisiacs.
According to news reports, the DFO is thinking about it.
Why am I not surprised? Disgusted, yes - but not surprised.
The current government of Canada, under the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is the worst I can recall. I believe this is certainly the most divisive, secretive, and downright destructive government in this country's once positive and respected image within the international community.
Some background: The species of seal targeted is the grey seal, found on both sides of the north Atlantic, on our side from northern Labrador south into the New England states.
The grey seal was once so rare that it was thought to have been extirpated from Canadian waters. But, its numbers have recovered.
No, it's not a fish - but DFO also manages marine mammals. Its management of fish, under well-documented political pressure trumping science from a time well predating Mr. Harper, has led to some disastrous collapses in various fisheries.
And seals, being consummate consumers of seafood, are scapegoated for human greed and ineptitude. The simplistic view of DFO is that the fish seals eat would otherwise be available for commercial fisheries.
To see what we're up against, read this account of a seal biologist trying to explain basic seal and fish ecology to a federal Senate committee charged with recommending what to do about grey seals. Or, if that's too long or technical, check this out.
The bottom line is that there is no true science behind the contention that grey seals are responsible for the catastrophic decline in certain fisheries, especially the northern cod - and no consideration is given to the positive role seals could be playing in the slow recovery of cod stocks. Grey seals were at their most abundant when cod were, as well.
But, none of the destructive forces want to admit culpability when there are seals (or other fish-eating wildlife) to be blamed and killed. Both the industry and the government want to kill them in large numbers.
But, to do so with any hope of making a significant decline in grey seals would cost too much ... unless, of course, they could be sold.
However, there is no market for grey seals. For the last several decades, the federal government has tried to placate east coast voters by developing markets for seal products, including meat, leather, fur, heart valves for human surgery patients, oils, and, yes- genitals.
But now, the harp seals are not to be killed until they are about two weeks old (no longer "babies" in the eyes of the government and industry) and even then, most former markets have rejected the product and the major buyer has stopped buying.
The very different grey seal has never been marketable, however. And, of a quota of 60,000 last year, DFO admits that only 82 were killed.
They all know, of course, that the product does not work. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop those desperate to try whatever holds the promise of enhanced virility.
And, apparently that's just fine with Mr. Harper, his government, and the Fur Institute of Canada - the latter having made the proposal, in the interest of killing 140,000 grey seals over a five year period in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The plan, secretly tabled in March 2014, promotes use of "every part" of the dead seal. "The penises of juvenile and adult animals may be dried and sold as sexual enhance products, particularly to Asian buyers," says the institute, according to reporters who obtained the report.
"Asian consumers, particularly athletes, also consume a beverage called Dalishen Oral Liquid that is made from seal penis and testicles, which they believe to be energizing and performance enhancing." They aren't, of course, but honesty is not a hallmark of the fur industry.
The sad fact is that trade in animal products used for various medicinal properties they either lack, or that are available from other sources, are driving many wildlife species toward extinction. Encouraging such nonsense is clearly antithetical to protecting endangered species, making a mockery of the fur industry's claim that it is concerned about conservation.
It's not a new idea. There was a market for the long-established and very commercially driven slaughter of harp and hooded seal pups, mostly, and some adults for many years, and it did include seal penises sold for hundreds of dollars each. But, the widespread use of male aphrodisiacs, such as Viagra, pretty well destroyed demand. The Fur Institute is suggesting sending out five boats and 40 hunters to use nine millimeter semi-automatic rifles with silencers, currently banned in Canada, at an investment cost of around $9 million Canadian (currently about $7.4 million US).
That the DFO would even consider all of this is a sad commentary on a country poorly served by its government. I am ashamed of what's being done with my country's once stellar reputation, but live in hope that, come the fall federal election, we can start a new chapter with a government that cares about conservation.
Keep Wildlife in the Wild,