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No market for pelts overshadows expanded seal hunt quota - 15 April 2009

As Canada's commercial seal hunt is set to re-open in the Gulf of St. Lawrence today with another 64,000 pups scheduled for slaughter, IFAW welcomes the news that many sealers may not participate in this year's hunt due to the lack of markets for seal fur.

"Of course we are pleased," said Sheryl Fink, Senior Researcher with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). "If market conditions ultimately lead to the demise of this inhumane slaughter, that's fine by us. If our own government won’t stand up for the majority of Canadians who want to see an end to commercial sealing in this country, then maybe the international marketplace will be the deciding factor."

Recent reports indicate that those processors willing to buy pelts this year are offering a mere $15 a skin, down from over $100 in 2006. Sealers note that at this price, engaging in the seal hunt is not economically viable. Pelt prices of $30 being offered to sealers from the Magdalen Islands last month were accompanied by reports that this included a $9 per pelt subsidy from the province of Quebec, and there are rumors that many pelts from the 20,000 seals reportedly killed were not actually purchased by processors.

"The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) claim that the setting of Total Allowable Catches (TAC) is market-driven is a complete crock," said Fink. "Were this the case, the TAC would have been reduced, not increased to a level that makes a mockery of their own management plan."

Last month, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea decided to increase the 2009 TAC to 280,000 harp seals, despite clear warnings from her own scientists that any TAC over 270,000 would not respect the Department's seal hunt management objective.

"It seems obvious to everyone – except the Conservative government – that commercial sealing is not a viable industry. The only thing keeping this slaughter going now is the steady flow of Canadian taxpayer dollars and the pride of a few politicians desperately trying to hang on to their seats in parliament," said Fink.

The Conservative government has confirmed its determination to move ahead with the continued waste of taxpayer dollars in support of a dying sealing industry, instead of responding to Canadian public opinion and the global economic downturn. Last week, Minister of International Trade Stockwell Day reiterated the government's position that any European Union (EU) ban on trade in seal products would be challenged at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

"I can’t possibly imagine anything more irresponsible," said Fink. "A WTO challenge would likely end up costing Canadians untold millions of dollars, all in an attempt to revive a dying market worth, according to Day's own department, $5.4 million at best."

"Minister Shea predicted that this year's hunt would be business as usual," recalled Fink. "While I have no doubts that the slaughter of seals pups continues to be inhumane, on the business front, she could not have been more wrong."