Commercial Seal Hunting Raises Threat as Animals’ Habitat Deteriorates: Nonprofit

Animal advocates who have been calling for an end to the controversial commercial seal hunt in Atlantic Canada for decades are now sounding the alarm, saying the effects of climate change on the animals’ sea-ice habitat has added another threatens its existence.

The annual hunt, which began recently, features commercial sealers hunting young harp seals for their white fur in areas off the eastern seaboard, including the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the northeast coast of Newfoundland.

The executive director of Humane Society International (HSI) Canada tells CityNews that in the Northwest Atlantic, the ice forms later in the year, is more fragile because it is thinner, and is also breaking up earlier in the season.

“That’s having a profound impact on harp seals, which are animals that breed on ice,” said Rebecca Aldworth. “That means seals rely on sea ice to give birth to their pups and they need the ice to stay intact long enough for their pups to be strong enough to survive in open water,” she adds, which is al least a few weeks. .

Seals, Aldworth explained, are legally allowed to be hunted when they are 12 days old, the age at which they begin to shed their white fur.

Aldworth said that HSI Canada is not campaigning to end subsistence hunting of seals by indigenous peoples.

“We are trying to put an end to a non-indigenous activity happening on the east coast of Canada that is opposed by people all over the world,” adding that “governments around the world have taken action to stop the trade and products of”.

Dozens of countries, some with exemptions for hunting products from Inuit and indigenous communities, have banned imported seal products, including the European Union, the US, Mexico, Taiwan and Russia.

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Aldworth said Canada found that “deteriorating sea ice conditions are causing a decline in harp seal reproductive rates and mass mortality in seal pups and that is expected to continue.”

“No government can stop the impacts of climate change in the immediate term, but what we can control right now is commercial sealing,” Aldworth said. “There is no responsible government that would allow a targeted commercial slaughter of a species that is dependent on ice and whose habitat is constantly disappearing.”

HSI Canada found that more than 98 percent of seals killed during commercial hunts are less than three months old, and 8,000 seals have already been killed this year.

Aldworth also said that since commercial hunting takes place miles from the coast and out of public view, “there is no way for the Canadian government to effectively control the killing,” calling current federal regulations ” inhuman”.

“What I have seen every year that I go out is baby seals being beaten to death with wooden bats and an instrument known as a hakapik,” Aldworth said. “I see seals shot long distances and wounded, left to crawl in their own blood trying to escape over the water’s edge. Sometimes they manage to get into the water, at which point they rarely recover and often die very slowly and painfully.”

“When you think that these animals are only a few weeks old at the time this is happening to them, it’s almost unimaginable the suffering this industry causes everyone to produce fur coats that no one needs and frankly no one wants,” he said.

Calling harp seals a vital part of the ecosystem in the Northwest Atlantic, he said they help keep fish species healthy and abundant.

“There are very few top predators left in the ocean ecosystem, most of them have been fished or slaughtered to commercial extinction,” Aldworth said. “Harp seals remain one of the last viable populations of top predators in the world.”

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans was unable to provide a spokesperson for an interview, but sent a statement to CityNews.

“The Government of Canada supports a sustainable, humane and well-regulated seal harvest and recognizes its importance to indigenous, rural and coastal communities,” he wrote. “The hunting of baby seals is illegal in Canada and has been since 1987.”

The DFO said in response to the Independent Veterinarians Task Force recommendations in 2009, Canada has a science-based, three-step process to ensure seals are harvested quickly and humanely, which is entrenched in law under the Regulations. of Marine Mammals of Canada.

“Canada monitors the harvest of seals to ensure compliance with regulations, does important scientific work on the health of seal populations, and ensures ice conditions are safe for harvesters,” he wrote.

It goes on to say that participation in the seal fishery, as well as market demand, has been low and the number of seals caught remains within sustainable levels recommended by science. The DFO said no quotas, the total allowable catch, have been set since 2016 as harvests have remained within sustainable levels.

According to federal data, in 2016 there were about 66,800 commercially harvested harp seals, and that same year, there were approximately 9,710 commercial seal license holders, with fewer than an estimated 1,000 active sealers.

That rough count of harp seals in 2016 is down from the government’s first year count shown online, 2012, which was around 312,000 animals.

Federal data also shows that the Northwest Atlantic harp seal population is considered “healthy and abundant” with an estimated 7.4 million animals.

“Catch levels continue to be closely monitored against the latest scientific advice to ensure scientifically determined and recommended catch levels are not exceeded,” the government said. “If this situation changes, additional management measures will be considered.”

A hunter targets a harp seal during the annual east coast seal hunt in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, around Quebec’s Madeleine Islands, March 25, 2009. Seal hunters are calling for more commercial licences, and even a possible slaughter, to protect fragile caplin and northern cod populations due to an increase in seal populations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan


“East [commercial seal hunt] it is an industry that exists thanks to government handouts and subsidies, if it had been left in the hands of market forces, it would have ended decades ago.” Aldworth said.

HSI Canada has proposed a just transition program to the federal government for those working in the commercial seal hunting industry in an effort to introduce marine ecotourism instead.

“What makes these communities commercial seal sites is their proximity to marine life,” Aldworth said. “But that also makes them perfect places for the development of marine ecotourism and that is a growing industry around the world.”

“It has already been shown to bring much more money to coastal communities than commercial slaughter,” he said. “All that is needed is a change in political mindset. We need the government to see the opportunity in responsible and sustainable ecotourism and invest in building that industry on Canada’s east coast.”

Aldworth said HSI Canada is working carefully to make sure that any trade bans it is involved with have clear exemptions for traditional indigenous slaughter products and to make sure there is strong consultation in crafting those regulations to ensure they are reflect the existence of subsistence sealing. in actions carried out around the world.

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