Major victory as Russia bans trade in harp seal skins
I’m thrilled to tell you that the door to one of the largest markets for seal products has now been slammed shut – the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the Russian Federation has banned the import and export of harp seal skins. It’s the biggest victory in the campaign to end commercial sealing since the European Union (EU) banned non-Inuit seal products, and we could not ask for a more wonderful holiday gift for everyone who has fought so hard with IFAW to protect seals.
According to the Government of Canada, Russia receives up to 90% of Canada's exports of seal pelts. In 2009, the same year that the EU banned non-Inuit seal products, Russia ended its own hunt for harp seals in the White Sea and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called it a “bloody industry” and something that “should have been banned years ago.”
IFAW’s campaign efforts have a history of successes in Russia, beginning with our efforts to end the slaughter of whitecoat seal pups by helicopter in the White Sea. Our teams observed and documented the Russian harp seal hunt in the White Sea in 1995 for the first time, and we were the first organization to campaign to end the Russian seal slaughter. Documentaries of the White Sea hunt were produced and widely shown on Russian television, along with photos and news articles. Thanks to IFAW, the Russian seal hunt could not remain hidden, and this cruel slaughter soon became public knowledge. IFAW’s exposure of subsidies to the Russian seal hunt, and the growing lack of demand for whitecoat seal products, added further strength to the campaign.
In 2008, ongoing IFAW support of aerial surveys and scientific research began to reveal an alarming decrease in the harp seal population in the White Sea, and IFAW was quick to bring our concerns to the attention of Russian public, media, and policymakers. In 2008 our campaign reached a tipping point as IFAW delivered petitions signed by 400,000 people to the Russian government. In 2009 anti-sealing protests were held in Moscow and 25 other Russian cities, and Russia ultimately ended its commercial harp seal hunt. At the time, Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources Yury Trutnev said, “The bloody seal slaughter, the killing of the defenseless animals, which can’t be even called a ‘hunt,’ is now prohibited in Russia as it is in most developed countries. It is a serious step towards the conservation of biodiversity in Russia.”
The Belarus-Kazakhstan-Russian trade ban is a significant victory that should be celebrated by all concerned with animal welfare and wildlife conservation. The full implications of this ban, with Russia’s recent accession to the WTO, remain to be seen. With the Russian market closed to harp seal fur products, and a long-promised deal to export seal meat to China at risk due to concerns over food security, the future looks bleaker than ever for the dying Canadian sealing industry. The time has come to acknowledge that the world does not want, nor need, cruel seal products. It is time to stop commercial seal hunting once and for all.
Timeline of shrinking markets
- 1972 US Congress passes Marine Mammal Protection Act, which bans the importation of seal products.
- 1983 IFAW helps win crucial ban in Europe on importation of “whitecoat” harp seal and blueback hooded seal products.
- 1987 Canadian Government bans commercial hunting of whitecoats and bluebacks in Canadian waters.
- 1990 With IFAW’s involvement, South Africa ends the hunt for Cape fur seals.
- 2006 Mexico bans the import and export of marine mammals, including seals.
- 2007 IFAW campaigns result in Belgium and the Netherlands adopting national bans on the import of seal products.
- 2009 Russia bans the killing of harp seal pups under 12 months of age.
- 2009 European Union bans the import of all seal products, with an exemption for Inuit-derived skins.
- 2010 IFAW continues its fight to protect the EU ban, and continues to expose the cruelty of commercial hunts to governments around the world.
- 2011 Deal between Canada and China to allow export of seal meat products postponed
- 2011 Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the Russian Federation ban the import and export fur skins of harp seals and their whitecoat pups