Monday, November 2, 2009

Canadian Seal Hunt: economic pressure through boycotts and bans

The Canadian baby fur seal hunt has, unfortunately, been taking place in the winter and early spring for many years. Even after extreme efforts over the years from Greenpeace and other hard core conservation groups, the Canadian government has continued to support the fishermen who participate in this hunt during their fishing off-season. For many people, it becomes one of those sad conservation issues whose persistence eventually makes it a lower priority; nothing has changed so we'd rather not think about it. But maybe that's now turning around.

Following on the heels of the European Union's recent decision to ban the commercial trade in seal fur (the U.S. initiated such a ban in the early 70's), The Humane Society International is continuing the strategy of economic pressure by promoting an ongoing ban, extending it to Europe, of Canadian seafood products - products that generate much greater income for Canada and the fishermen involved in the hunt than do seal fur.

The images of big-eyed baby harp seals and hunters wielding clubs or picks has always added to the message that the hunt was cruel in it's execution. Seals could be shot, but bullet holes reduce the value of the seal skin, so clubbing remains the preferred method. Often, the seals are skinned while out on the ice, so in the end it's a pretty grizzly scene (although, I think if we spent a day at a slaughter house or chicken farm, we'd probably all be vegetarians). In the end, the question is whether the seal fur market is worth sustaining, given a shrinking customer base (Canada exports most of its seal product), ecological and conservation implications (Grey seals were nearly wiped out due to over-hunting in the Gulf of St. Lawrence), and the anticipated bad PR and loss of revenue from an extended seafood boycott.

Several commercial food markets and restaurants have joined the Canadian seafood boycott, including Whole Foods Markets, Trader Joe's Food Emporiums, and Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville Cafes.

According to The Humane Society International:

"With more than 1 million baby seals killed in the past five years alone, Canada's commercial seal kill is the largest slaughter of marine mammals on Earth. The annual slaughter is an off-season activity conducted by commercial fishermen from Canada's East Coast who earn, on average, just a small fraction of their annual income from killing seals.

'Expanding the boycott of Canadian seafood to Europe is a logical next step in our campaign to end Canada's commercial seal slaughter,' said Mark Glover, director of HSI/UK. 'The European Union took the historic step of banning its trade in products of commercial seal hunts. Now, by not purchasing Canadian seafood products, European citizens are showing their support for putting an end to the bloody slaughter of baby seals.'

HSI's American partner, The Humane Society of the United States, launched the Canadian seafood boycott in the U.S. in 2005. To date, the ProtectSeals boycott has gained the support of more than 5,500 establishments and 650,000 individuals. With the help of European establishments, HSI hopes to increase these numbers—as the European Union is the third largest market for Canadian seafood—and bring an end to the inhumane slaughter of innocent seals."

Once again, it would seem that economic power speaks louder than humane actions when it comes to motivating commerce. If you would like to learn more about the hunt, click here. To add your name to the boycott list, click here.

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