The international court ruling that essentially ended Japan’s whale hunt won’t affect Canada’s equally contentious seal hunt, but it may be a sign that animal rights issues can be fought and won in courts, rather than with protests and picket lines.
Monday’s International Court of Justice decision found Japan’s “scientific” whaling program was not for research purposes and was illegal.
Animal rights groups that fought the hunt for more than a decade are heralding the court’s 12-4 vote against the hunt as a victory.
“[It shows] a lack of tolerance for the slaughter of marine mammals, which is not necessary in this day and age,” said Sheryl Fink, the director of Canadian wildlife campaigns at the International Fund for Wildlife (IFAW).
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While groups such as IFAW and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society can take credit for raising awareness and criticism of the whale hunt – and Canada’s seal hunt, for that matter – a University of Ottawa law professor said this ruling shows a shift in how international panels evaluate environmental and conservation issues.
“I think we’re really at the brink of a bit of a sea change, where you can no longer just ignore environmental protection objectives,” said Markus Gehring.
“In my mind, at least, there is no doubt that international courts and tribunals are moving to adopt more sustainable development-oriented arguments.”
He pointed out the significant difference between the Japanese whale hunt and Canada’s commercial seal hunt – the most obvious being that there are no strict international treaties regarding seal hunting as there are with whales.
A hunter heads towards a harp seal in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence March 25, 2009. (File photo)
Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press
But like Japan, Canada’s defence of the seal hunt has gone before an international body – the World Trade Organization.
Environment and Northern Economic Development Minister Leona Aglukkaq flew to Geneva last month to appeal the findings of a WTO decision that found the European Union’s import ban on seal products undermined trade agreements but was justified under “public moral concerns.”
The Appellate Body is expected to rule on Canada’s appeal later this month.
“Any politician or policymaker in Ottawa needs to be acutely aware that blatantly ignoring international environmental standards might be palatable in certain domestic circles, but will not be welcomed by international courts and tribunals,” Gehring said. He doubts the WTO’s Appellate Body will reverse the panel’s findings.
He added the seal hunt’s future will most likely hinge on economics, not international relations.
That’s something that Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson, a longtime opponent of the seal hunt, aims to capitalize on in the group’s campaign against the Canadian seal hunt.
“If we remove the market, then it removes the reason to kill seals,” Watson told Global News in a Skype interview. “That’s where the effort is being made right now – not on the ice but to undermine those markets.”
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Sea Shepherd and other conservation groups argue the commercial seal hunt is not economically sustainable and would not survive without government support. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans says it no longer subsidizes the hunt because it’s economically viable.
But the Canadian government financially supports the hunt in indirect ways, such as funding a project that will help offer seal products in Canadian grocery stores.
Keith Hutchings, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, said the province’s seal industry can stand on its own and is growing, not faltering. And he says measures have been taken to ensure the hunt is carried out humanely.
Last spring’s commercial hunt off Newfoundland landed about 91,000 harp seals, up from 69,000 the year before but far short of the federal quota of 400,000, The Canadian Press reported.
The provincial government has provided economic support to the industry the last two years in the form of inventory financing that was paid back with prescribed interest each year, he explained.
Hutchings said the industry is thriving enough that the government won’t need to provide that financing this year.
But, the Newfoundland and Labrador government has promised $60,000 to support a campaign that will combat misconceptions around the seal industry.
He added that the EU ban “is not a showstopper for the industry, no matter what WTO rules or where that goes.”
Hutchings said he understands that people have their criticisms, but he said “we believe in what we’re doing.”
With files from The Canadian Press
East Coast seal hunt starts amid trade and court challenges
15 boats have shown their intention to hunt, says Humane Society International
The annual East Coast seal hunt starts Monday against a backdrop of ongoing trade and court challenges in Europe and renewed claims from animal welfare groups that the 400-year-old industry is dead in the water.
Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of the Canadian wing of Humane Society International, said on Sunday that only 15 boats have signalled their intention to take part in the hunt, which typically focuses on harp seals off the northeast coast of Newfoundland.
With the market for seal products closed in the United States, most of Europe and Russia, the commercial hunt is a shadow of what it once was, largely surviving on subsidies from the Newfoundland and Labrador government in the past few years, Aldworth said.
“From a market perspective, the seal hunt is very much over,” she said in an interview, adding her group will return to the ice floes to document the slaughter. “Markets around the world have closed … It’s an industry that’s limping along on credit and subsidies.”
‘Trade should be governed by facts and evidence and not based on issues or morality fuelled by misinformation.’– MP Gail Shea
However, the federal government has been steadfast in its support of the hunt, insisting it’s a humane, sustainable and an economically viable pursuit that is important to many coastal communities.
Fisheries Minister Gail Shea admitted Sunday that those opposed to the hunt have been effective in shutting down international markets.
Every seal hunter must be trained on proper killing techniques before they are allowed to take part in the hunt, she said.”They have been spreading misinformation about the Canadian seal hunt and Canadian seal products for as long as I’ve been in this position,” Shea said in an interview from Vancouver. “It’s grossly unfair. We’ve done a lot of work in ensuring that our Canadian seal hunt is humane.”
“I believe there’s great opportunity in the sealing industry,” Shea said, adding that Ottawa continues to invest in product development.
Trade challenge continues
Meanwhile, the industry continues to push ahead with a court case in the European Union aimed at overturning a ban on seal products, and the federal government is appealing a recent World Trade Organization decision to uphold the ban.
A seal hunter prepares to shoot a grey seal. (Paul Darrow/Reuters)
The WTO concluded in November that while the ban undermines fair trade, the restrictions can be justified on “public moral concerns” for animal welfare.
Last month, Canada’s northern development minister said the WTO’s decision had set a dangerous precedent for future trade relations.
Leona Aglukkaq said the trade organization was wrong to cite moral grounds in its ruling. She said the ruling should be struck down because it unfairly discriminates against Canadian seal hunters while allowing the EU to ban products from any type of business that involves the killing of animals.
Shea said even though the EU has provided an exemption for Inuit seal hunters, the broader ban is effectively killing their markets anyway.
“Trade should be governed by facts and evidence and not based on issues or morality fuelled by misinformation,” she said.
Humane Society International and other animal welfare groups are suggesting Ottawa should shut down the industry and cushion the economic impact by offering buyouts to about 6,000 licensed hunters.
She rejected that idea.
“I don’t believe this industry is for sale,” she said, adding it will be up to industry players to decide the fate of the hunt.
Sheryl Fink, wildlife campaigns director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, issued a statement saying the hunt has been on life support for 20 years.
“It will never come back to previous levels,” said Fink. “Europeans don’t want products from an inhumane, wasteful and unnecessary industry.”
Source: CBC News
Editorial: SELVA-Vida Sin Fronteras
Gustavo López Ospina
Pieter Jan Brouwer
Assistant: Emilia Romero
SELVA Vida Sin Fronteras acknowledges Kevin Schafer’s important contribution towards protecting the highly endangered Amazon pink fresh water dolphin. Title photographs of our “The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice” were taken by Mr. Schafer.