Around the world countries are finally trying to stop the annual baby seal slaughter in Canada, which began this week, by shutting down imports of seal fur.
“Global markets for seal products are closing fast,” the Humane Society International reports. “In 2013, Taiwan prohibited trade in marine mammal products (including seal products), joining the 28-nation European Union, the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan; and the United States, which also prohibits seal product trade.”
But Canadian fishers are still allowed to hunt the seals in their off-season, killing the babies for their light fur, because, well, because of economics. The hunters have long counted on this fur trade for their livelihood, and Canadian officials have acquiesced even though the market for these furs is diminishing.
This year, Canada will allow up to 400,000 baby seals to be bludgeoned or shot to death, a high number even as seal hunts go. The barbaric, centuries-old tradition has no place in modern society, and the hunters don’t earn much from the hunts relative to the yearly income from fishing, say critics. Yet the practice continues.
The Canadian and Norwegian governments are sustaining it.
Canada subsidizes the hunt, and a business based in Norway continues to buy the seal hides, according to the Humane Society International.
“In recent years, millions of dollars have been spent on ice breaking for the sealing vessels and search and rescue of sealing crews by the Canadian Coast Guard—all at taxpayers’ expense. In 2009, the Canadian government estimated that enforcement of the Marine Mammal Regulations cost between $1.8 and $3.6 million—for an industry that brought in less than $1.5 million that year. The Canadian government also commits considerable resources each year to lobbying foreign governments on behalf of the sealing industry, including overseas flights and accommodations for lobbyists.
“Moreover, Canada’s commercial seal hunt is also indirectly subsidized by the Norwegian government. A Norwegian company purchases close to 80 percent of the sealskins produced in Canada in any given year through its Canadian subsidiary. These skins are shipped in an unprocessed state directly to Norway, where they are tanned and re-exported. The Norwegian government provides significant financial assistance to this company each year.”
That’s right. The “nice” citizens of Canada and Norway are supporting the slaughter of baby animals, whose pelts are not needed, via their democratic governments.
What’s worse, in 2006, the Norwegian government apparently paid the company, GC Rieber, to destroy 10,000 excess pelts, revealing that markets for the seal skins were not as robust as traders argued.
HSI has long fought the baby seal hunts, which occur in sea ice around Newfoundland off the eastern coast of Canada, on grounds that they are inherently cruel. That seals are often still alive when skinned because they’ve only been knocked unconscious when shot or clubbed.
“Parliamentarians, journalists, and scientists who observe Canada’s commercial seal hunt each year continue to report unacceptable levels of cruelty, including sealers dragging conscious seals across the ice floes with boat hooks, shooting seals and leaving them to suffer in agony, stockpiling dead and dying animals, and cutting open live seals.”
Aside from this cruelty, the hunt disrupts a population of mammals, intelligent, gentle animals, that are struggling to survive as sea ice diminishes. Habitat for harp and other seals is declining as the Arctic region warms under climate change.
There is a solution. Some officials in Canada favor subsidizing the hunters to refrain from killing the seals. This subsidy could be more affordable than what the government spends to keep the seal hunts going. According to HSI the 6,000 or so hunters who participate in killing the seals only derive a small fraction of their animal income from this spring activity.