IFAW strongly opposed to sealers’ demands for early start to seal slaughter

IFAW strongly opposed to sealers’ demands for early start to seal slaughter
Friday, 24 March, 2017
Ottawa, ON

The International Fund for Animal Welfare condemns any early opening of the commercial harp seal hunt. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) are considering suspending the annual closure of the hunt in mid-March. This is one of the few protections in place for harp seals.

Harp seal pups are born on the ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Late February, and in early March on the Front off Newfoundland, although the timing of birth is variable and may be affected by changing ice conditions, with pupping being delayed or extended in years of poor ice conditions.  Harp seal pups are highly dependent on their mothers for the first two weeks of life.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada closed the Commercial and Personal Use seal hunt in Newfoundland and Labrador on 15 March this year, to allow mothers to give birth to their pups and nurse without disruption.  The closure is also reduces the risk that whitecoat seal pups will be killed.  

Now, the Fisheries Unions in Newfoundland are calling for an early opening of the hunt, ostensibly so that they may kill adult seals. This argument seems questionable since 99% of the harp seals killed in recent years have been pups under 3 months of age known as “beaters.”  According to landed catch statistics, some 92% of the meat from the annual hunt is wasted. The most valuable part of an adult harp seal in recent years has been its penis, raising concerns about increased involvement in a bogus seal-penis sex potion trade.

It is virtually impossible to identify an adult female from an adult male harp seal at a distance, and opening the annual slaughter before pups are weaned increases the risk that nursing females will be killed. 

“Harp seals are already facing threats from climate change and deteriorating ice conditions. The idea that DFO could remove one of the very few protections offered to this species by extending the hunt period is appalling. There is no justifiable reason to open this hunt before the pups are weaned from their mothers” said Sheryl Fink, Director of Canadian Wildlife Campaigns.

IFAW strongly opposes any move by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to open the commercial harp seal before whitecoat pups have fully moulted and are no longer dependent on their mothers. 

Opening the hunt before all pups are weaned means harp seal mothers will be killed, leaving their helpless pups to starve to death.

 In addition, it increases the likelihood that seals will be shot at in the water.  The 2005 report of the Independent Veterinarians Working Group recommended that seals should not be shot in the water due to the high probability of “struck and lost” and wounded seals suffering unnecessarily.

IFAW believes the commercial east coast seal hunt is inhumane and unnecessary, and urges the government of Canada to support a sealers’ licence buyout and encourage alternative industries in Atlantic Canada.

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