Canada's Seal Slaughter Must Go the Same Way as its Whaling Industry

The annual bloodbath is outdated and unwanted, the seal fur market having collapsed – but still the government presses on

This Thursday marks the official start of Newfoundland's and Labrador's spring seal-slaughtering season. More than two thousand seals have been killed so far this year. Many more will be clubbed or shot before sealers hook them in the eye, cheek or mouth and drag them across the ice floes off Canada's east coast. Some will be skinned while they are still alive. Each one of them is a victim of the Canadian government's desperate efforts to keep the failing sealing industry afloat. Many had hoped that the seal slaughter would not happen this year. The Canadian government's decision to go ahead with this annual bloodbath - despite the fact that there is no longer any market for seal fur - makes no economic sense.

What should have been the final nail in the coffin of the seal slaughter came last December when Russia - which had been buying 95% of Canadian seal pelts - joined the EU, Mexico and the US in banning seal-fur imports. Russian president Vladimir Putin has called seal hunting a "bloody business that should have been banned long ago" and later ended seal imports after Pamela Anderson led an international appeal on behalf. In September, the EU rejected an obviously orchestrated attempt by the Canadian government, in its challenge of the EU ban on seal products, to play the "native Canadian Inuit" card. But the Inuit live far from "the front" - the area where the mass commercial slaughter takes place - and are responsible for only about 3% of Canada's annual seal kill. The EU already exempts Inuit seal products from the ban.

The seal slaughter most definitely doesn't continue because of support in Canada. Polls have consistently shown that the majority of Canadians are opposed to the slaughter. Millions in taxpayer money are being wasted to prop up this dying industry. The federal government pours up to CAN$7m (PS4.4m) a year into maintaining an industry that nets only about $1m. While seal pelts used to earn sealers more than $100 each, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans reported that in 2010, pelts were sold for only about $20 to $25. At this rate, sealers can hardly cover their operating costs.

Very few sealers took part in the 2011 slaughter, and they killed less than 10% of the 400,000-seal quota. One of the largest seal-processing companies, NuTan Furs, has just announced that it will not buy any seal pelts this year. The Canadian government has been trying to peddle seal products in China, but groups like PETA Asia have been working hard to ensure that doesn't happen. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador even just announced it would provide $3.6m in financing for a fur processor.

So why does the Canadian government still allow thousands of seals to be slaughtered in such barbaric ways, squandering millions in tax dollars and staining the country's international reputation in the process? It likely won't surprise you to learn that the answer is politics. Both the liberal and conservative parties are desperate to control the swing seats in Newfoundland. But now even Canadian politicians are openly questioning the slaughter. Ryan Cleary, a member of the Canadian parliament who represents one of the regions in which the seal slaughter takes place, summed up the general feeling when he acknowledged: "Part of our history is also whaling, for example, and the day came when the whaling industry stopped. Now, is that day coming with the seal hunt? It just may be".

That day has come, in fact it's long overdue. It's more important now than ever for people to speak out against this cruelty.

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