TWILLINGATE, NL – Jack Troake acknowledges the work was gruesome, but said it had to be done.
“No, I don’t miss seal hunting," the veteran sealer based in Twillingate said. "Turns me stomach there when I talk about it. That’s how much I hates it. But you do it because it is part of your culture and your way of life.”
The isolation of rural outports in Newfoundland made life difficult. For the most part, the communities living there had to be self-reliant by growing their own vegetables, and turned to fishing for their livelihoods.
“It’s the way of life you know, b’y, for typical Newfoundlanders and all these outports,” he said.
Troake is one link in a lineage of seal hunters and fishermen, a tradition that was passed on to his sons, Garry Troake and Hardy Troake.
Troake remembers the time he killed his first seal at age nine. It was a proud moment for him, but a prouder one for his grandfather.
“My grandfather was here and I came in with the seal. Geez, you wouldn’t know that he had seen a million dollars – oh, I can see him now,” he said, laughing.
“My grandfather gave me a house for that seal. Nice deal for one seal.”
He followed in the footsteps of his forefathers, being heavily involved in the fishing industry and hunting seals for a living. He did not think of it as anything different.
“That’s what we do. It was our culture and our way of life,” he said.
Troake retired in 1996. The toll of physical work on his body after many years in the industry started to get to him.
“I was getting above 60 years old, and it was getting tough,” he said.
He regrets making the decision when he did. His son, Garry, died in a fishing accident in 2000, which Troake blames on fishery regulations and himself.
The federally-imposed regulation at the time stated that fishing nets were not to be left in on Sundays. Garry Troake and Roger Blake went out on a motorboat on a Sunday to pull in their nets. Unfortunately, the weather turned bad and took Garry’s life.
“If I did not retire, I would’ve been on the boat with Garry. Nine out 10 chance we wouldn’t have headed out as well,” said Troake.
Despite time and tragedy, his passion for the fishing industry remains just as strong since retiring. He believes the balance between conservation and management of fish stocks and seal is not adequately addressed.
According to Troake, there are between 11 and 12 million seals in the ocean, of which seven to eight million are from one species. These seals feed on capelin and cod fish and their sheer number directly affects what the commercial fishery can harvest. He believes action should be considered to balance the number of seals with the fish population. Troake would like to see the market open for seals, as long as they are harvested humanely and sustainably.
On the upside, the demand for seals is booming in the province. According to Troake, the market is looking for 50,000 seals this year, of which 95 per cent are for the local market. He is hopeful the demand for seals will rise in the future.
“Seals is like any creature on this earth – like caribou, moose. God gave us this animals to sustain ourselves while we roam this planet,” Troake said. “As long as it is done humanely and harvest sustainably. It never looked nice.”