Canadian fisheries department calls for reduction in harp seal quota

A young starving harp seal pup. Much to our surprise, French Canadian media is reporting that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has recommended a reduction in the allowable catch of harp seals by 25 percent for 2012.

According to DFO scientist Dr. Mike Hammill, the harp seal population has dropped to some 7.7 million animals, due to a decline in reproductive rates and lack of food.  The lack of ice in recent years has also played a role according to Dr Hammill, with barely 30% of newborn pups surviving the first 6 weeks of life due to poor ice conditions.

The fact that the commercial hunting of these pups is allowed to continue is inexcusable.  All but 18 of the 40,393 seals killed last year were under 3 months of age, and the combined effects of poor ice and commercial hunting is now showing an impact on the harp seal population.

The call for a decrease in quota by 100,000 will arguably lead some to question the soundness of DFO’s management plan for the seal hunt, since just last year the Minister of Fisheries increased the quota by 70,000! 

And while it remains to be seen what newly appointed DFO Minister Ashfield will ultimately decide to do for 2012, a decrease would certainly be unusual; it has happened only 4 times in the entire 40 year history of DFO management of the seal hunt. 

Unfortunately, even a 25 % quota reduction would be an inadequate half-measure that makes no sense in reality.  Given the nearly non-existent markets for unnecessary seal products, a far better move would be to shut down the dying sealing industry altogether, compensate sealers appropriately, and protect seals from the threats of climate change and commercial exploitation. 

With so little economic value left in the sealing industry, sealer participation at an all-time low, and seals being threatened by loss of ice habitat, there is no better time for Canada to put an end to this shameful slaughter once and for all.   


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