Canadian Seal Hunt Opens Again Amidst Outcry

VANCOUVER - The Canadian seal hunt began again in earnest this week despite protests in Canada, the United States and Europe.It has become a fashionable cause celebre in recent years amongst British animal rights activists who have bombarded the Canadian embassy in London with questions. The killing quota has been set at 270,000.

Last year, the 335,000 quota was reached. The seals that are killed are predominately under three months old, according to critics. Animal rights activists have also claimed that some seals slip on the ice and perish and that many deaths go unreported. Recently, activists have tied concerns with the seal hunt with climate change and melting ice.

Rebecca Aldworth, director of Canadian Wildlife Issues with the Humane Society of the United States, says that her organisation opposes the commercial seal hunt, but not the sustenance killing done by aboriginal groups. She argues that the commercial hunt is not sustainable.

"The seal hunt leaves baby seals wounded and they are often left in agony as part of the normal routine of the hunt," she told IPS. "It is a reckless slaughter at unsustainable kill levels. It is a risk to the survival of the species to keep a few thousand commercial fishermen at work. In the past three years, one million seals have been killed."

Aldworth also argues that the profit motive behind the hunt for a primarily European fashion market is unjust and that raising awareness about the hunt can undermine its economic basis. She also adds that a majority of Canadians oppose the hunt and that recent figures show opposition at 80 percent.

Bridgit Curran of the Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition argues that the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans has shown an unwillingness to listen to the will of Canadians.

"The Canadian government needs to end the commercial seal hunt and consider the viable alternatives for out of work fishermen such as early retirement, retraining and development of eco-tourism," said Curran in an interview with IPS. "The hunt is glaringly unsustainable. It should be noted that we are not targeting the aboriginal seal hunt."

Curran told IPS that there is movement afoot to target the European fashion industry, which uses the seal pelts. The European Commission is currently evaluating policy related to the import of Canadian seal pelts, as is Britain. Restrictions have already been put in place in Germany, Belgium, Italy, the United States, Mexico and Croatia.

Mark Glover with Humane Society International in Britain says that many people in Europe are not aware that the seal hunt is going on and that it is worse than ever. Glover told IPS, "People in Europe need to realise they have a responsibility in this. They have the blood of the seals on their hands."

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, in a background document on their website, states that, "The precautionary management system used to manage harp seals has the management objective to keep the population at a healthy level (above 4.07 million). Should the population size diminish below that level, actions will be taken to bring it back to above 4.07."

Another management measure taken for 2007 to decrease the possibility of quota overruns, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, is shorter and more controlled opening periods, such as half-days for some fleets; coordinated regional management and monitoring plans; monitoring at dockside; mandatory hail-outs (communication with maritime authorities) on departure for some fleets; and daily hails of catches for all sealing vessels, among other measures.

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union in Newfoundland, which represents more than 20,000 workers throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, supports the seal hunt and argues that it has been part of coastal life since the 17th Century. They also argue that Canada has one of the largest seal fisheries in the world and that it provides income for fishermen who have been battered in recent years with fish quotas and the collapse of the cod fishery.

Phil Jenkins, a spokesperson with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, told IPS in an interview from Newfoundland, "I think the reason that this is controversial is the emotion that is brought in to the debate. Humans eat meat, use animal products, but they rarely see the process of killing animals."

"The seal hunt happens in open sight on white ice. These are powerful visual images and these organisations that are opposed to the hunt use an emotional approach and misrepresent the facts. These are not baby seals, they are pups. The herd is not in danger."

"It is an economically important activity," he said. "It represents 25-40 percent of income for fishermen who live in remote areas where unemployment rates are high and in the context that there is a moratorium on cod. Raising the emotional pitch of the debate is not fair. The protest industry is worth more than the seal industry itself."

Jenkins argues that in a free society, these images cannot be controlled, but are subject to misuse by activists for their own political agendas.

He added that the seal hunt is economically important to Atlantic Canada. "It is a very one-sided debate in Europe. Right now there are representatives of the sealing industry meeting with elected representatives from Europe and presenting a scientific and fact-based approach. These protest groups are misinformed and emotional," he said.

Copyright (c) 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service.

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