STAR OF STARGATE & MACGYVER LENDS SUPPORT TO BOYCOTT OF CANADIAN SEAFOOD
CHARLOTTETOWN -- Richard Dean Anderson is the latest Hollywood celebrity to become an outspoken advocate for the seal pups that are harvested every spring in Eastern Canada. Anderson, star of the long-running MacGyver and Stargate SG-1 shows, appeared at an hour-long news conference Monday at the Basilica Recreation Centre, Charlottetown, to show his support for an international boycott of Canadian seafood products organized by several large wildlife protection groups, including the Humane Society of the United States. The boycott, announced in late January, is directed at an industry that exports $3 billion worth of products to the U.S. alone.
Anderson faced, at times, pointed questions from one member of the media about how he could support a boycott of all Canadian seafood products, including those on the West Coast, where the seal hunt is not conducted.
Anderson said he doesn't have all the answers and has yet to see what happens when the "blood flows" on the ice, but is willing to learn about the industry and is determined to gain more "hands on" knowledge of conservation issues.
Anderson turned the tables on reporters, asking if any had actually been to a hunt and to describe their feelings about what they saw.
"Did there seem to be any sense to the acts that were taking place? Seriously, did you see the sense in the killing of the pups of these seals? Don't want to answer?"
More than 12,000 sealers from Newfoundland, P.E.I. and Quebec are expected to head to the ice floes later this month and in April, in a bid to harvest more than 300,000 seal pups just as their fur turns from snow white to brown.
The hunt has become much more profitable in recent years, mirroring the skyrocketing price of pelts fuelled by rising demand from overseas countries, including China. A good sealer can earn tens of thousands of dollars in less than a month's work.
Anderson, who called it quits on the long-running Stargate SG-1 series, filmed in Vancouver, was accompanied by Paul Watson, captain of the 54-foot vessel Farley Mowat and an avowed environmentalist for nearly three decades. Watson heads the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, while Anderson is a director.
"We're not really concerned about the price of pelts," said Watson, comparing the sale of pelts to the criminal trade in crack cocaine.
"The fact is it's an obscenity, it has no place in the 21st century and it gives Canada a bad reputation around the world. On March 15 we'll have demonstrations in front of Canadian consulates in over 40 nations. Thousands of people are being mobilized to oppose this hunt.
"If money justifies environmental destruction, there would be a free-for-all everywhere and endangered species would soon become extinct species. So, the price of pelts is irrelevant to us. This is a barbaric and ignorant and cruel and unnecessary industry and it can't be justified because somebody is making a buck on it," said Watson.
He vowed to continue his fight against the sealing industry for as long as takes to shut it down, or until seals become "extinct" from over-harvesting.
It's not just the hunt that is threatening seals, warned Watson, it's global warming that is melting the giant ice pans on which pups are born and nursed, and poisonous metals seeping into the oceans.
Anderson, greeting reporters with a beaming smile, limped slightly from a broken foot, injured prior to his trip to P.E.I. He also apologized for a voice weakened by a severe cold.
Watson and 27 other crew from 10 countries aboard the Sea Shepherd enjoyed anything but a smooth voyage through the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Sea Shepherd developed a serious leak Sunday morning, at ship's bottom, an unlikely place for damage to be caused by contact with jagged ice.
Watson didn't rule out the possibility of a deliberate act of sabotage.
The ship is berthed in Port aux Basques, Nfld.
Watson is no stranger to controversy, having, with another actor, Martin Sheen, been attacked by 50 angry sealers while they were staying in a hotel room on the Magdalene Islands in 1995. The pair was part of an international protest against the hunt.
Anderson got a taste of the ill-feelings Watson stirred from earlier trips to the Magdalene Islands, when the pair went to a restaurant on the Island Sunday during a refueling stop and were confronted by "a din of silence" when Islanders saw Watson.
"I looked around the room and there were half a dozen people with the most caustic stares," said Anderson.
An Island sealer, reached at his home in Murray River this morning, said Anderson still has plenty of work ahead before he can consider himself educated about such a complex issue as the spring seal hunt, though he is impressed with the star's stated intention to become more informed.
Still, Ken MacLeod, said the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's campaign can't be very successful, if television's most popular handyman hero can't fix a leak in the boat.
"MacGyver can't keep the boat afloat," joked MacLeod, adding, "I hope he's open-minded enough to consider both sides of the (hunt)."
MacLeod, one of close to 20 Islanders participating in this year's hunt off the North Shore, expressed skepticism whether star power and international boycotts will change public perception about the hunt, citing the experience of previous actors, Brigitte Bardot, Loretta Swit and Martin Sheen.
In a lighter moment, of which there were many during the news conference, Anderson who plays hockey and is a staunch fan, said he wasn't happy about the NHL lockout, which cancelled the regular season and playoffs.
"It's done, quite potentially, irreparable damage to the institution (NHL)," said Anderson, who has "chums" who are players and is also a friend of Brian Burke, former GM of the Vancouver Canucks and TSN hockey analyst.
When asked who was to blame for the lockout, Watson interjected, "The Department of Fisheries and Oceans."