The Seal’s Voice: Anti-seal hunt activists find a strange ally in climate change

Anti-seal hunt activists find a strange ally in climate change

While activists say the industry is no longer viable, sealers argue seals consume fish that they could catch and sell other months of the year.While activists say the industry is no longer viable, sealers argue seals consume fish that they could catch and sell other months of the year.


Josh TapperStaff Reporter
 There was a Nova Scotia spring, not even six years ago, when up to 40 boats, 25-footers and 50-footers and 65-footers, unhooked from the docks near Louisbourg and Sydney and Ingonish, set out to seal.

It was a time, says 60-year-old Robert Courtney, who has hunted seals for four decades, when fishers could pad their piggy banks by peddling a few pelts and sustain a living until the summer fishing season picked up.

But this year, after a warm winter on Cape Breton Island, the sea ice where harp seals perch never materialized. Neither will the hunt.

“I can’t see anything going ahead this year,” says Courtney, president of the North of Smokey-Inverness South Fishermen’s Association, which represents most Nova Scotia sealers. “There’s no ice for the seals to be on.”

For decades, the economic and ethical battleground of Canada’s harp seal hunt has failed to yield a victor. On the surface, this year looks to be no different. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans cannot tout an international market boom for seal products, and activists’ pleas still fall on deaf ears.

The annual cull is already underway at least around the Magdalen Islands, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Yet the industry is faltering. The 2012 quota is again set at 400,000, the same as last year, when only 38,000 were killed.

Stakeholders once again find themselves caught in a war of attrition. Some predict this year marks a key stage in the precipitous decline in what was once one of Eastern Canada’s most lucrative industries, with an export value over $16 million six years ago.

“All the signs point to an industry on the decline, and (it) won’t come back,” said Sheryl Fink, seal program director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare perhaps the industry’s most vociferous opponent.

The harp seal slaughter, it seems, is simply slipping into irrelevance and the numbers augur a grim future.

Four years ago, Canadian seal pelts brought in $6.48 million, according to the DFO. By 2010, with a European Union import ban choking previously popular markets in Germany, Finland and Norway, pelts earned less than $815,000. A 2011 Russian import ban on pelts crippled the Canadian industry, which often used northern European ports as way stations to points east.

Seal oil — found in Omega 3 health products — fared no better, and neither did seal meat. Oil exports shrunk nearly 40 per cent from 2008 to 2010 and the DFO called 2009 seal meat exports “virtually negligible” after Japan, which a year earlier purchased $141,000 of the tender flesh, stopped importing. “We haven’t been able to recover from these measures yet,” said Frank Pinhorn, executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association, in St. John’s, Nfld.

Pelts go for about $20 on average, according to the DFO, but prices have been reported to be as low as $8. Although the federal government issued about 14,000 commercial sealing licenses last year, fewer than 7,000 were active.

The domestic market for flipper pie, a Newfoundland specialty, seal-based dog food, sausages and clothing, and other haute-cuisine menu items cannot sustain the industry.

“The price for seal products is too low for (fishers) to go out sealing,” Pinhorn says. “Everybody went snowcrabbing last year … People here who earn a living from the ocean go where the best dollar is.”

Animal rights activists and eco-advocacy groups have found a strange ally in their seal hunt fight — climate change.

Strangely, that global issue — a markedly larger, less controllable force than trade treaties or advocacy campaigns — resonates on both sides of the seal-hunt debate.

The Magdalen Islands cull began Thursday, four days ahead of schedule, after the DFO deemed imminent warm weather might hinder the hunt.

In 2010, the department reported ice cover in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and southeastern Labrador was 80 per cent less than expected and the lowest in more than 40 years. A joint 2012 study by IFAW and Duke University scientists found increased temperatures in North Atlantic waters has contributed to melting sea ice in harp-seal breeding zones by up to 6 per cent per decade.

The resulting logic, according to Liberal Senator and seal hunt critic Mac Harb, goes something like this: Less ice means no breeding grounds, which means fewer seal pups, which means no hunt.

“It’s not a way of living when you can only do it two weeks a year,” Harb said of the season which normally lasts from March to late April.

For anti-hunt activists, then, climate change has a benefit.

“I think we can say that climate change is going to kill the hunt this year,” Sheryl Fink of IFAW says. “That’s not how we wanted to see this hunt end. My personal feeling is it won’t be back.”

While activists say the industry is no longer commercially viable, sealers argue the large seal population consumes fish that they would otherwise catch and sell other months of the year.

The fisheries department, which puts the harp seal population at nearly 8 million, said that while disappearing breeding grounds might become a long-term problem, “there are no imminent sustainability issues.”

“It’s a loss of income and loss of product,” Nova Scotia’s Courtney says. “We’re getting whacked both ways.”

Source: Canada News



~ by FSVSF Admin on 26 March, 2012.

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