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Why does Canada continue to invest so much in their failing seal industry?

Justin Trudeau’s government has been under pressure for years to ban seal hunting after it emerged they spend more on the sealing industry than they receive from its exports- for example, in 2014 the industry’s export figure was $500,000, while Canada spends around $2.5 million a year to monitor and subsidise the seal hunts that occur in the remote north-east.

Every year, Canada sets seal quotas of more than 400,000 harp, hooded and grey seals, which is much higher than other countries who practice sealing such as Namibia and Greenland. 97% of the harp seals killed are pups who are less than three months old. These high investment and quota figures are bizarre considering the number of active sealers has decreased from 6000 to fewer than 400 since 2006, and organisations like the EU banned imports from the trade in 2009. The US also shut down its involvement in the trade of seal products.

So if friendly countries like the UK and US are turning their backs on the trade and the industry itself isn’t generating a persuasive amount of income for Canada, why do they continue it?

The government and seal-fur industry maintain that the practice is necessary for those sealers and seaside communities that rely on it. Sealing can account for as much as 40% of the annual income for sealers which is important as most of them live in the economically deprived Newfoundland and Labrador provinces. Some fishermen argue that seals eat too much cod, depleting their stocks, but scientists counter this by saying that cod makes up only a small portion of seal’s diets and overfishing is more likely the cause of this exhaustion of cod stock. The government tries to justify the hunt by saying that it plays an important economic and historical role in the country. Adam Burns, the acting director general of fisheries management at Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said “Historically it’s played an important role from generation to generation… It still does generate economic activity in coastal communities where it’s badly needed.”

The use of seals in the clothing industry, for meat and in pharmaceuticals is limited in demand, and this little demand rarely stretches outside of Canada. As Rebecca Aldworth, the executive director of the Humane Society International-Canada, said “The industry makes no economic sense. We know the seal hunt would’ve ended years ago if it was left to the market.” The Humane Society has proposed a buy-out of existing sealing licenses, with financial help for fishermen to transition to other industries, but the government has given no indication it would support such a plan. This is a shame since this proposition seems to be the best one put forward to both end the hunt and support those few left who rely on it.

Although there is demand for seal meat and oil in coastal communities, it’s unclear but dubious whether Canadians alone can save the industry. While some chefs in Canada have added seal meat to their menus, there’s no evidence that the wider public has taken a strong liking to the meat, or enough of predilection to provide substantial economic benefits to the industries’ continuity.

Why does it need to be stopped?

We know the industry is unnecessary, so even though the numbers of seals being killed is decreasing, it still needs to be stopped completely. This is because of the inhumane ways in which the animals are killed.

The government requires sealers to go through training on how to kill humanely, mandating that sealers target a seal’s head with high-powered rifles, clubs or a hakapik- a wooden staff with a hook at the end. They then have to ensure the animal is dead and sever its arteries before skinning it.

Despite this guidance, welfare groups claim the slaughters are inhumane, with hunters impaling pups in their face or eyes and shooting seals from moving boats- this means that often the seals are only wounded before being clubbed to death. Pups are especially targeted for their soft coat for use in the clothing industry. Parliamentarians, journalists and scientists who observe the 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 the wounded, stockpiling dead and dying animals and cutting open live seals. Aldworth also said that “Many animals are left to suffer in agony, crawling through their own blood on the ice”- this is because $2 is deducted by the main sealskin processing plant in Canada for every bullet hole they find. As a result, sealers loath shooting them more than once, often leaving them to suffer as many slip below the surface to escape the hunters where they die slowly and aren’t recovered.

Aldworth continued; “…The hunt happens in an area larger than France in a very harsh, remote location. It’s very expensive to monitor this hunt, and it’s impossible to ensure a humane death in conditions like these. The regulations allow people to hook conscious animals onboard with a metal spike, which no one would consider humane.” Reports have noted a general failure to comply with regulations by sealers and a failure to enforce the regulations by authorities.

No substantial evidence for the continuation of this industry and plentiful evidence for the eradication of it leads to the question of why the government is still subsidising and supporting such a trade. The few communities who still rely on it could be supported during the transition into new industries by the government and the Humane Society, while the move towards abolishing this outdated and barbaric trade takes place. Vast amounts of wasted money would be saved, the communities would have new and prosperous job opportunities, and the seals and their pups would be protected from a lifetime of pain. While seals are still abundant, they shouldn’t be hunted, not just because the industry is cruel, but because seals are already facing new pressures from climate change, as warming waters melt the stable sea ice needed for nursing pups. While we hurt them with our emissions effects on their environment, the least we could do is stop hunting them in their homes while they can still live there.

We all need to HELP MORE seals, and you can start now by signing this CHANGE petition:

Keep up with the #MOREmovement on our Instagram: @moresocials

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