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Canadian Projects

Canadian Blog

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA's Canadian Representative

Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)

Sealers and Politicians; Apples and Oranges

Why Inuit Challenge to EU Seal Product Ban Makes So Little Sense

Published 09/30/11

Sometimes in a dispute the two sides are so far apart, so ensconced in such different worlds that resolution of the conflict not only will not happen, it seems it cannot happen.

Case in point: Whether you care and whichever side you support, the Canadian East Coast commercial harp seal hunt has, since the late 1960s, been strongly opposed around the world and been the catalyst for enormous protests waged against Canada. When, in 1985, the European Union banned the import of products derived from “baby” seals — the major target of the hunt because their snow white coats were valued for fur trinkets and curios — the number of seals killed went down significantly, to the point where the protest movement eased its opposition and many people assumed the hunt had ended. Not so.

The government did make a change whereby you can’t export products from newborn seals who have not started to shed their neonatal fur, or in other words, are less than about 2 weeks old. After that, they were no longer legally considered “babies” and could legally be killed and sold to Europe. The kill quota always remained high (currently more than 300,000 seals). Meanwhile, year after year lack of sufficient floating ice (which the seals require to successfully give birth to and feed their young) has led to loss of unknown numbers of the animals. The conservative COSEWIC (Committee on Species of Endangered Wildlife In Canada) has started to list the harp seals as a species to be concerned about, due to global warming, mysterious deaths of adults, and loss of huge numbers of young.

The Inuit have never been a significant part of the commercial harp seal hunt, but have traditionally hunted the more northerly ringed seal for food and other products. COSEWIC has expressed similar concerns about ringed seals, which also require ice for successful breeding. The European ban has never included the ringed seal nor the products of the Inuit seal hunting.

The Canadian government and fur industry (essentially in many ways one and the same) have long known that progressive thinkers are, quite rightly, sympathetic to the plight of “native” or “aboriginal” people the world over, and have shamelessly sought to bamboozle Europeans and media by confusing the “subsistence” hunt of ringed seals by Inuit with the annual commercial East Coast seal hunt and by misleading propaganda. But the European policy-makers aren’t stupid, and besides, they are politicians who have to answer to the concerns of their constituents.

Of course the Canadian government/fur industry claims politicians and voters alike are misled by “animal rights activists” about the cruel nature of the seal slaughter, but again facts and information are presented by both sides and, believe it or not, the Europeans are capable of judging for themselves.

In fact, demonizing dissidents while promoting seal hunting has backfired and the Europeans have rejected all products (as the Americans did years ago) derived from the commercial harp seal hunt, but allow trade from the Inuit hunt of primarily ringed seals, effectively giving the Inuit a monopoly. But 17 organizations, including the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), challenged the EU decision in the European Court of Justice. On Sept. 6 the Court handed down a 12-page ruling that it would not strike down the ban.

Here’s where it gets really crazy. Frank Pinhorn, a spokesperson for the Sealers Association, is quoted saying the federal Canadian government dropped the ball.

The federal government has consistently used taxpayers’ money — my hard-earned money — to spread misinformation about the seal hunt and the fur industry and about those of us who have steadily and in many different ways sought to provide hard facts and evidence to all buyers of seal products. If they dropped any ball, it was by saying things that could be shown to be untrue, and by using silly tactics, such as arguing that a 16-day-old seal was not a “baby,” whatever that means, or that seals were “eating all the fish” and therefore had to be culled, or that each seal killed was killed humanely, or that animal activists were all raking in huge amounts of money from a hopelessly gullible public. Good grief. Larger organizations, in spite of every impediment put in their way to drive their costs up, have nevertheless documented the slaughter and allowed us to make up our own minds.

And now the seals are failing, year after year, to reproduce, while there has been a mysterious die-off of adults who have washed ashore in uncounted (and, because of the remoteness and ruggedness of the terrain, uncountable) numbers.

Enough is enough. The Canadian commercial seal hunt is an outdated anachronism and the tip of a fishery mismanagement iceberg that is best relegated to the pages of past history of excessive exploitation and greedy indifference to basic ecological realty. It is past time to let go, pay off the sealers, and move on.

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