Canadian Commercial Seal Hunt (Seafood Boycott)

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The Issue:

The Canadian commercial seal hunt is the largest and cruelest marine mammal slaughter in the world.

In 2006, 354,344 seals —mostly pups less than 3 months old— were bludgeoned, shot, and skinned to feed the vanity, whims and greed of the fashion fur and exotic leather industries and their customers, or to provide meat and oils for which there is little demand or market.  Over a three year period, between 2001 and 2005, over one million seals were reported killed during the hunt.

Click here for a January 2012 article from The Guardian UK

Background on the European seal product ban:

Hundreds of millions of people in the United States, Canada, and the European Union and the thousands of NGOs who promote their interests applauded the European Parliament’s 550-49 vote on May 5, 2009 in favor of a ban on the importation of seal products into the 27 member states of the European Union.

The legislative journey to the successful vote began with the personal initiative of one European legislator, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Carl Schlyter. Schlyter made common cause with fellow MEPs Paulo Casaca, Karl-Heinz Florenz, Mojca Drcar Murko and Caroline Lucas. They were joined by some of the world’s largest and most effective animal protection organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and a coalition of European groups.

Together, the politicians and the NGOs created a wellspring of overwhelming public support. More importantly, however, they proved in the most rigorous political, public, and media fora under intense cross-examination and unrelenting scrutiny that the case for commercial seal hunting was not based on sound humane, scientific, and conservation principles nor that it is economically important as the sealing nations, particularly Canada, argued. The NGOs showed that sealing policy is determined by political opportunism and disregard for all other considerations.

Working together, the politicians and NGOs showed that commercial seal hunting is inherently and unavoidably cruel, that it cannot be managed successfully, that seal populations cannot be estimated with the certainty necessary to manage commercial sealing in such a way as to insure the survival of seal species or seals’ continuing biological significance in the marine ecosystem, and, finally, that seal products are of little economic importance to Canada.

In the end, Canada and the other three major sealing nations Greenland, Norway, and Namibia were unable to demonstrate the validity of any of their assertions. Their arguments were reduced to emotional pleas, misinformation, personal attacks on their opponents, disparagement of the integrity and intelligence of European legislators, and trade threats against the European Union. The falsity and disingenuousness of Canada’s pro-seal hunt arguments and lobbying campaign are reflected in the overwhelming vote in favor of the ban. The European legislators’ votes were as much a rebuke of Canada as they were an endorsement of the protection of seals and a European Union seal product ban.

The ban will go into effect at the beginning of 2010, but it is already impacting the world’s last remaining commercial seal hunts in Canada, Norway, Greenland and Namibia. Fewer seals are being slaughtered this year than last. The Canadian commercial seal hunt—the largest marine mammal slaughter in the world—will claim the lives of about 60,000 seals this year compared with about 220,000 in 2007 and 2008.

The Canadian Seafood Boycott:

Despite the European ban, Canada’s commercial seal hunt is far from over.  The Canadian government is preparing to challenge the European ban at the World Trade Organization and is actively seeking new markets.  Consequently, animal protection organizations must continue to pressure the Canadian government to vote to end the hunt.  The Canadian Seafood Boycott is one of the tools that a coalition of organizations is using to continue to apply pressure to the Canadian government.  An American boycott of Canadian seafood applies an economic penalty to Canadian fishermen, who also kill seals and whose governing federal and provincial agencies so assiduously promote and defend the hunt.  Kill the profits, and the Canadian government, the sealing industry, and the fishing industry will kill the commercial hunt.

The idea for the Canadian Seafood Boycott came from a growing frustration among Canadian animal and environmental protection activists with the lack of progress made by the anti-sealing movement toward ending Canada’s commercial seal hunt. One of these activists, Stephen Best, founder of Environment Voters (EV) and, a veteran of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s anti-seal hunt campaign (1984-1985) wrote in his 2002 appraisal of the anti-sealing movement:

“It is extraordinary, but after almost 40 years of intense anti-seal hunt activism, the Canadian seal hunt persists, more secure and more robust than at any time in its modern history. The seal hunt persists because the anti-seal hunt groups have failed to change the fundamental political realities that have compelled successive Canadian governments to promote it. The seal hunt persists because — with the sole exception of the poor seals — it is still in the best interest of everyone involved in it or who has control over it that it do so. Until this fact is dealt with, the Canadian seal hunt will continue to persist.”

Realizing the benefits of a campaign that would change the political realities of Canada’s commercial seal hunt, Best developed a strategy for influencing Canadian Seal Hunt Policy. He prepared a document outlining the strategy for the Directors of AAC and EV titled Influencing Canadian Seal Hunt Policy with a Consumer Boycott of Canadian Seafood and presented it to the Board of Directors.

The strategy outlined the economics and the efficacy of a consumer boycott of Canadian seafood. It also examined the susceptibility of Canadian Seal Hunt Policy and the Canadian Fishing Industry to a consumer boycott.

Today the Canadian Seafood Boycott campaign consists of an ad hoc alliance of the most powerful international, national and grassroots animal and environmental protection organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States, Born Free USA united with The Animal Protection Institute, and the International Wildlife Coalition. As the campaign progresses, more organizations continue to join.

More Restaurants Join!

While some of these restaurants had decided before signing the AAC pledge form not to purchase east coast seafood, they have now formally promised to avoid it until east coast fishermen stop killing seal pups for their fur.

These restaurants and chefs all deserve medals for taking a stand against the hunt. We recognize that it’s a very courageous thing for them to do.

Despite the apparent success of the European ban and the immediate reduction in seal mortality, the world’s seal hunts are not over, and the world’s seals are not yet safe. Politicians in the sealing nations will likely continue to subsidize the hunts.

They may even increase the subsidies, as they have done in the past, for political advantage. Such subsidies are low cost because seal hunts are of minimal economic value, and they return enormous personal political benefits for politicians who promote them. Consequently, they are politically very attractive.  Former Canadian fisheries minister Brian Tobin’s electoral successes are evidence of the political benefits of governments subsidizing commercial sealing operations.

In order to end the commercial exploitation of seals, it is not enough to merely close markets.  Strong economic sanctions are required that will directly affect countries that fail to prohibit commercial sealing and, as importantly, individuals who engage in sealing operations.

Canada, for example, exports almost 80% of its fisheries products to the United States. Canadian politicians and the sealing industry (which is pursued almost entirely by commercial fishing interests) argue that the seal hunt is necessary to preserve Canada’s fisheries. Massive killings of marine mammals to protect fisheries is inconsistent with established science and conservation principles.

Progress in Canada:

As many of you know, Liberal Senator Mac Harb made history by introducing a private member’s bill on March 3rd, 2009, calling for an end to the commercial seal hunt. Senator Harb has re-introduced this bill, Bill S-207. A second senator, Conservative Senator Lowell Murray has seconded the bill, but it is still being prevented from being discussed in the House.  Senator Harb has asked for help to flood Canada’s Senate with messages of support.

Senator Harb e-mailed this note in March 2011:

Dear Friend,

I have recently tabled a Notice of Motion directing the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to find specific ways to help support Canada’s Inuit and aboriginal hunters affected by the European Union ban on commercial seal products.  I am pleased to report that the motion was seconded by Senator Charlie Watt, who represents Northern Quebec in the Senate.  Senator Watt also sits on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

Along with looking at ways to help these Canadians take advantage of their unique exemption as subsistence hunters, I believe that this motion will compel the government to move past its futile efforts to challenge the EU ban on commercial seal products at the World Trade Organization. As we know, this challenge will take several years, will cost millions of dollars and is unlikely to overturn the carefully drafted EU ban.

Senator Watt and I will need the support of our colleagues in the Senate to ensure the motion passes and this issue is studied at the Committee.  I would therefore encourage you to contact the members of the Senate, by email or letter using the link and address below, urging them to support Canada’s Inuit and aboriginal communities by voting in favour of the motion.

Canadians living in Canada’s Northern and Atlantic communities expect and deserve a proactive, viable strategy from their government as the commercial seal hunt comes to an end once and for all.  I thank you for your interest and contribution to achieving this goal.


Senator Mac Harb

List of Senators:

Mail may be sent postage-free to any Senator at the following address:  The Senate of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1A 0A4.

Please, call and write the Senators, and urge them to do everything in their power to end the Canadian commercial seal hunt.

Click here to read a February 2012 Chronicle Herald article on how Tory Senators responded to a seal cull opponent.  And to read Barry Kent MacKay’s response to the Senators’ reaction, visit his blog on Born Free.

September 24, 2012 Globe and Mail article:  Canada forges on against EU seal ban

The Russian Federation passed a historic ban on trade in harp seal fur — the main product of the Canadian seal slaughter.

But the Canadian government is vowing to reverse the ban through diplomatic pressure.  Please show your support and take a moment to thank the Russian government for this momentous achievement and ask them not to give into pressure and overturn this important ban!

What You Can Do:

See a list of things you can do to help stop the seal slaughter.