Climate change clobbers Canada’s commercial seal hunt

Wednesday, 30 March, 2011
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - is relieved to announce that no sealing activity has been reported since the opening of the commercial seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Unfortunately, climate change is killing seal pups - and the sealing industry - instead.  

IFAW is on the East Coast to document the commercial seal hunt and has found almost no ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and consequently very few seals. According to Environment Canada data, ice coverage has been below normal for the past 17 years, with 2010 and 2011 being two of the worst on record. 

“In 2002 IFAW sounded the alarm bell that climate change could have a serious impact on harp seals. Now, we are seeing these devastating effects and there are virtually no seal pups to be found. For the second year in a row, record-low ice coverage means that harp seal pups are being found on land, which is highly unusual,” said Sheryl Fink, Director of IFAW’s seal program, “Many of these pups have been abandoned by their mothers prematurely, they are exposed to predation and disturbance, and few can be expected to live.”

Rather than taking a precautionary approach, reducing levels of commercial exploitation and allowing the few remaining members of this population a chance to survive, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced an increase in the 2011 total allowable catch for harp seals, up 70,000 harp seals (over 2010) for a total of 400,000.

“In a pathetic and transparent attempt to win votes of fishermen, Gail Shea has ignored the fact that climate change is devastating harp seal populations and set the total allowable catch at the highest it has ever been,” said Fink, “Once again the Conservative Party is ignoring science, ignoring the obvious effects of climate change on our environment, and ignoring the economic reality that markets for seal products are disappearing.”

Despite Canadian government claims that there is a strong and viable market for seal products, some processors are not buying seal pelts at all this year and thus seal hunting will offer even less income to sealers.

“Once again, both seals and sealers have been abandoned by the Canadian government. So far the 2011 seal hunt is a bust, with markets for seal products disappearing as fast as the ice these animals depend on. Seal pups deserve protection, and sealers deserve better than the empty promises of an industry that is doomed to failure.  The Canadian government should do the right thing and protect seals and transition sealers into economically profitable, viable industries,” added Fink.

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