When it Comes to Seals: Pride Never Helps, it Only Hurts
The following is an expanded version of a letter printed in Embassy Magazine, 22 March 2011.
So Norway has joined Canada in its challenge of the EU ban on seal products. Considering that for much of the last century the Canadian sealing industry has been beholden to Norwegian interests, this token gesture of support is perhaps the least they could do.
With an annual quota of 49,400 harp seals, the Norwegian seal hunt is marginal in comparison to the allowable catch of 400,000 expected to be announced for Canada this year. Their regulations concerning seal hunting practices are arguably more rigorous than those in Canada. And unlike Canada, Norway openly acknowledges that commercial sealing is not an economically viable activity, and requires significant subsidies in order to continue.
Norwegian support for this year’s hunt is set at 7.5 million NOK ($1.3 million CAD), although fishermen say this is not nearly enough and have requested that the amount be doubled to 14 million NOK ($2.5 million CAD). An additional 3 million NOK ($526,000 CAD) has been set aside for general assistance of seal processors.
Although Norway subsidized its hunt last year to the tune of 11 million NOK ($1.93 million CAD), only 4652 harp seals were reportedly caught. Even in 2006 - a record year for seal pelt prices where sealers in Canada earned over $100 per skin - 75% of the value of the Norwegian seal hunt was attributed to subsidies.
Given that markets for seal products are global in nature, how is it that Norway must regularly subsidize their seal hunt by more than 80%, while the Department of Fisheries and Oceans maintains this same industry is “economically viable” and denies any government subsidies whatsoever?
Of course, commercial sealing is not economically viable, neither in Norway nor here in Canada. Under documents obtained through Access to Information, the estimated cost of monitoring and enforcement for only a portion of the 2009-2010 commercial seal hunt in Canada was over $1.02 million, more than the landed value of the hunt itself. Add to this the hundreds of thousands spent annually on government delegations overseas to promote seal products, funding to sealing industry associations and processors, various communications efforts to convince the general public that clubbing 3 week old seal pups for their fur is somehow necessary or ethical, and the costs quickly accrue.
And now, Canadian taxpayers will bear the burden of what will undoubtedly be a lengthy and expensive (at least $10 million CAD) WTO challenge of the legislation restricting marketing of non-Inuit seal products in the EU.
This challenge – which the government says is based on “principle”– will likely attract further international condemnation of Canada’s commercial seal hunt. Even if Canada achieves a victory at the WTO the EU ban is likely to remain in place, offering little tangible benefit to sealers.
The WTO challenge of the EU seal ban is not based on principle, because in Canada’s commercial seal hunt no principles are involved. It is not principled to kill defenseless animals that have not yet lived long enough to eat solid food or reproduce, and which have no chance of escape. It is not principled – nor legal in most other wildlife hunts – to kill a wild animal and waste the meat, as has been done with millions of seal pups over the past decade.
And it is not principled to tell the EU they must continue to peddle dead seal products when millions of Europeans have clearly indicated that they are unwanted.
Challenging the EU restrictions on seal products at the WTO is not based on economics, and it is not based on principle. It is based on politics and pride, and the only winners will be (perhaps) some Canadian east coast politicians and (undoubtedly) legions of trade lawyers on both sides. The losers will be Canadian sealers - who deserve better than being forced to rely on a dying industry with little future, and Canadian taxpayers - who continue to pay for this embarrassment, both with their taxes and with their reputations on the global stage.
For more information about the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort to end the Canadian commercial seal hunt, visit http://www.ifaw.org