The Canadian Press, Andrew Vaughan/AP
Hunters gather pelts as the annual East Coast seal hunt starts in the southern Gulf of
St. Lawrence around Quebec's Iles de la Madeleine.

Seal Hunt Continues in Canada, Despite Growing Opposition

March 25, 2009 12:00 PM
by Shannon Firth
Each year Canada’s annual seal hunt begins amid controversy, but a proposed EU ban on seal products makes this year’s hunt particularly contentious.

Seal Hunt Commences

On Monday, March 23, the annual seal hunt began off Canada’s east coast. Despite protests and global criticism—Russia banned hunting baby seals last week and the EU is considering a ban on all seal product imports—the hunt began at the Gulf of St. Lawrence near the Magdalene Islands and will continue north to Newfoundland.

The hunt is bittersweet for some sealers, who on Sunday honored four friends who died last year when their boat overturned during the hunt, reported The Globe and Mail.

The “allowable catch” this year is 338,200 for harp, hooded and grey seals, an increase of 55,000 from the previous year. In light of global warming, the Humane Society calls these “historic high quotas” “irresponsible and reckless.”

According to AFP, The Humane Society argued, “The last time Canada allowed this many seals to be killed, the harp seal population was reduced by as much as two thirds within a decade.”

The legislative branch of the European Union voted last week on a bill to ban all seal products. The full European Parliament is slated to vote on the issue next month. According to the governing body’s Web site, “In practice, seal products such as bags, hats, boots and gloves used by motorcyclists, skiers and boxers would be outlawed, as would … Omega 3 fatty acid supplements.” The Inuit and other aboriginal communities would be exempt from the ban.

According to The Huffington Post, seal pelts supply the fashion industry in Norway, Russia and China—Norway would be unaffected by the European Parliament’s bill. Following the hunt in 2006, fishermen exported $5.5 million in seal products to the European Union.

Fisheries Minister Gail Shea told The Globe and Mail, “Our government will continue to defend the rights of Canadian sealers to provide a livelihood for their families through our lawful, sustainable and humane hunt.”

The government has issued 16 permits to human rights organizations and journalists to observe the hunt, AFP reported.

Opinion & Analysis: Ending the seal hunt

In an editorial published by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, one writer predicts the end of the seal hunt, saying, “Yes, seals will die this year, but they will not get their ridiculously high quota for the simple reason that the money is simply not there anymore.”

According to Asia One, environmental group Nature Quebec is lobbying to defeat the European Parliament’s import ban, saying it “could have grave consequences” for anyone living in the Magdalen Islands and Newfoundland province.

Nature Quebec reports that the seal population, which is approximately 5.5 million according to 2006 estimates, is not truly threatened by the hunt. The group contends that an increase in the seal population could endanger the North Atlantic cod stocks.

Background: Seal hunting FAQs

Citing both sides of the debate, a 2008 CBC article provides information regarding seal quotas, the impact of seals on codfish and the economic importance of sealing to fishermen.

Related Topic: Overhunting caused demise of Caribbean monk seal

Caribbean monk seals, which lived in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and the West Atlantic Ocean, were easy targets for hunters while resting, birthing or nursing their pups on the beach, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency has now deemed the species extinct.

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