By Catharina de Waal
Halifax demonstrators gathered on the International Day of Action for Seals to protest against the Atlantic Canada commercial seal hunt.
Bridget Curran, the co-founder and director for the Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition, organized the event. It took place at the main gates of the Halifax Public Gardens on March 16.
“Canada’s cruel and unsustainable commercial seal hunt is unacceptable,” says Curran, whose mandate is to educate the public about how harp seal and grey seal pups are clubbed or shot to death in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
“The majority, almost 99 per cent of the harp seals killed in the commercial seal hunt, are younger than three months,” says Curran. “When the pups are killed, they are not even eating solid food yet and they are not able to swim away.
“This is a large slaughter of wildlife on a commercial basis.”
Curran says not only is the seal hunt inhumane, but each year the Canadian government invests millions of taxpayer dollars into an industry with a dying market. This occurs through programs like the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, which provides subsidization to Canadian seal processing plants.
“The industry is failing. The Canadian government would be better to use that money to help sealers transition out of this unreliable industry,” says Curran. “It is also very good to see demand for seal products dropping and global markets closing.”
Not everyone agrees
Robert Courtney, a spokesman for Hay Island’s seal hunters and the president of the North of Smokey Fishermen’s Association, has been hunting seals for more than 40 years.
“The seal hunt is very important to me,” he says. “Not only is it financially a large part of my livelihood, but it also helps protect the fishing industry by making sure the seals don’t deplete the halibut, cod, lobster and crab populations.
“There is still a large market for seal products. The only problem is that foreign governments, such as Taiwan and the European Union, will not allow the trade of these Canadian products,” says Courtney.
“People want to buy the products but it’s just the lack of access to these markets that gets in the way.”
Courtney says the government subsidizes many industries in Canada, including the automobile industry. Many industries are going through a hard time right now “so why should the seal hunt be treated any different and not be subsidized?”
Numbers support the hunt
Pierre-Yves Daoust, a professor in anatomic and wildlife pathology at the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island, supports Courtney.
“For several years now, the number of seals harvested has been substantially below the quota established for the seal hunt,” says Daoust.
For example, in 2012 the harp seal quota was 400,000 while only about 70,000 harp seals were culled.
“With such limited harvest relative to the total seal population, it would be doubtful that the hunt could have an affect on the environment,” says Daoust.
Daoust says seal biologists within the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans have actually shown an increase in harp seal and grey seal populations in Canada since the 1970s. Therefore, “it seems clear that the seal hunt has had no negative effect,” says Daoust.
“A lot of effort has been spent to provide information workshops to sealers on best seal harvesting methods from an animal welfare perspective,” says Daoust. “I sincerely believe that the sealing industry has been in full support of these initiatives and a lot of progress has been made in promoting a professional attitude on the part of sealers.”
Listen to Bridget Curran talk about how the seal markets are closing, resulting in a decreased need for seal products.
Daoust says, “I do not understand the constant emphasis on the seal hunt when there are so many more serious issues affecting the animal world, such as the harvesting of shark fins being among the worst as far as I am concerned.”
“My only explanation is that it is easy for anyone with lots of money to observe the seal hunt and obtain as many graphic images as needed for her own agenda.”