Time to face reality, end the commercial seal hunt

Time to face reality, end the commercial seal hunt
Wednesday, 4 January, 2012

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW www.ifaw.org) wants Canada’s 2012 commercial seal hunt to be called off due to conservation concerns raised by a new scientific report showing that climate change is negatively impacting harp seals.  Given the lack of demand for seal products, the Government of Canada should begin a process of permanently ending the commercial seal hunt, compensating sealers and providing support for transitioning them into other industries.

Seals need protection, perhaps now more than ever. A new study, published 4 January 2012 in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, raises concerns for the future of harp seals. The study, authored by scientists from Duke University and IFAW, shows that warming in the North Atlantic over the last 32 years has reduced the sea ice cover in all harp seal breeding regions by as much as 6% per decade, resulting in higher death rates among harp seal pups in recent, poor-ice years.

The findings of the studies are echoed by the Government of Canada’s own estimates of harp seal mortality rates in recent years. According to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), 80% of the pups born in 2011 were thought to have died due to the lack of ice. 2010 was the year of lowest ice cover ever recorded with coverage at about 80% below the expected levels.  In March 2007, extremely poor ice conditions in the Gulf of St Lawrence led DFO scientists to predict that pup mortality in the Southern Gulf could be extremely high, “possibly approaching 100%”.

In addition to declines in seal pup survival rates, reproductive rates have dropped dramatically, meaning that entire age classes of seals are likely to be missing from future population surveys. The Environment Canada ice forecast for 2012 is also extremely poor, predicting greatly reduced ice coverage again this year.

The heightened conservation concern for harp seals comes at a time when the market outlook for seal products remains bleak. The European Union market remains closed to non-Inuit seal products; Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan have recently banned the import of harp seal pelts, shutting off 90% of Canada’s exports; the Chinese seal-meat deal has not been finalized; and processors report there remain some 400,000 seal pelts in stockpile.

The number of sealers actively involved in the commercial seal hunt has also declined in recent years, from an estimated 5600 in 2006, down to 225 in 2011.  Cruelty and inhumane killing methods, on the other hand, have remained prevalent in the industry as the drive for speed and profits is ever increasing.

It is time for the Canadian government to face the reality that the commercial sealing is neither viable nor necessary, and there are no indications that it will become so in the future.  The continued subsidization of this industry will not benefit fishermen over the long term.  Any government support provided to the sealing industry should be in the form of a restructuring and transition plan to end commercial sealing and compensate affected individuals.

A copy of the Duke University Press release  can be found here: https://www.nicholas.duke.edu/news/harp-seals-on-thin-ice-after-33-years-of-warming

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Photos and video are available at www.ifawimages.com

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Michelle Cliffe (IFAW Canada)
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Sheryl Fink, Campaign Director, Canadian Wildlife
Campaign Director, Canadian Wildlife
Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
Vice President of International Operations