Season hanging in limbo

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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No start date, no price for pelts offered: sealers’ association

Not only is there no opening set for the seal hunt at The Front, but according to a spokesman for the sealers there hasn’t been a meeting yet to discuss possible dates.

Frank Pinhorn, executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association, said the opening of the main hunting grounds, just off Newfoundland and Labrador, is usually set by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans after the announcement of the year’s quota which was set at 400,000 a few weeks ago.

As of Monday, Pinhorn said there had been no consultation with his organization.

He said the opening would normally be set somewhere around April 8-11. “I expect to hear this week, but again I’m not sure. It’s left in limbo.”

The veteran sealer said while the quota has been set, it is not yet clear who might buy the seals.

“We have no commitment from the industry — if they’re going to buy and, if they’re buying, what the price might be,” he told The Telegram.

While the logistics of this year’s hunt may be in limbo, the one constant is the presence of the anti-hunt campaigns.

A commentary piece, “Dismantling the seal hunt,” was published online Sunday by The Varsity student newspaper at the University of Toronto. In the piece, writer Simon Capobianco states the seal hunt debate is “long on emotion and short on facts.”

He goes on to call the hunt “immoral” and “a drain on the economy.”

The piece runs under a photograph of a white-coated baby seal, though Canada banned hunting of whitecoats in 1987.

On the decidedly anti-hunt website for Humane Society International (HSI) in the United States, an image of a seal about to be killed by a sealer is accompanied by the text: “Help us stop this. Baby seals need your help now.”

HSI has successfully developed their anti-hunt efforts over the decades. A Facebook posting Friday calling for “emergency donation” for their 2012 anti-sealing campaign had 646 “shares” as of mid-day Monday.

The posting noted the early opening of the smaller hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence was moved ahead by a matter of a few days.

Leaders with the Canadian arm of the organization are unapologetic when it comes to the aggressive stance against the faltering sealing industry. “We believe a constructive solution can be found to end the commercial seal slaughter in Canada, and doing so in the near term is a major priority for us,” read a statement offered to The Telegram. To that end, the group promotes a federal buyout for sealers.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) mainpage also features an anti-sealing campaign, an extension of that organization’s efforts year after year.

The IFAW has called the 2012 Canadian harp seal quota “indefensible.”


A search for the words “seal” and “hunt” in the transcripts of the province’s House of Assembly, since its opening March 5, won’t get you far if you’re looking for public defence of the industry.

On March 15, provincial Fisheries Minister Darin King, referenced sealing when calling for questions from the Opposition on the general subject of the fishery. However, he has made no direct statements on the hunt in the House.

The only other reference to sealing was from the MHA for Bellevue, Calvin Peach, who spoke briefly about the South Dildo seal tannery. Peach highlighted the plant as “the largest seal plant in the world,” where “about” 46 people were employed year-round.

“We hear talk about the seal market is going down and how the seal fishery is gone, but these people are still working. The way that operates is that the seal skins — I am being told — are worked on for about two years before they are ready to process. So, let us hope that this year the seal fishery, again this year, that pelts can be bought, and let us hope that there is a market found for that as well,” he said.

At the federal level, seal fur lapel pins were all the rage in Ottawa Feb. 2, also known as Seal Day on Parliament Hill. They did little for solidarity on the issue inside the House of Commons.

Liberal MP Judy Foote called upon government, “to take on misguided activists whose actions hurt the (sealing) industry.”

Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield responded: “Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House this government is in full support of the sealing industry and the people who earn their livelihood from that industry. That cannot be said by other members in this House.”

He said he looked forward to more work with pro-sealing organizations in the future, prompting criticism from NDP MP Jack Harris. “Mr. Speaker, one would never know it with the Conservatives’ work on trade deals,” he said.

Green party leader Elizabeth May has objected to the Canadian government’s pro-hunt activities, including the ongoing World Trade Organization challenge against the European Union’s 2009 ban on seal product trade. Along with Sen. Mac Harb, she has promoted a buyout of commercial sealing licences.


Since last year’s hunt, the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia has proposed trade restrictions on seal products, closing potential markets for 2012.

“I have instructed Canadian officials to actively engage with their international counterparts to convey Canada’s concerns over these proposed restrictions and to examine options for ensuring continued market access for Canada’s sealing industry,” federal Minister of International Trade, Ed Fast, stated in response.

As for the promise of a market for seal products in China, the sealers’ association has posted an informational notice on its site.

“The Chinese government has asked for a delay in a trade deal between Canada and China in the export of seal meat that was signed in January of 2011,” it states.

The Fur Institute of Canada, Nu Tan Furs in Catalina, G.C. Rieber Carino and the Northeast Sealers Co-op were contacted regarding this story. No response was received as of press time.

Organizations: Humane Society International, The Front, Canadian Sealers Association Department of Fisheries and Oceans The Varsity University of Toronto IFAW International Fund for Animal Welfare House of Commons.Liberal MP Judy Foote Conservatives World Trade Organization European Union Customs Union International Trade Fur Institute of Canada Northeast Sealers Co-op

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, United States China Ottawa Belarus Kazakhstan Russia Catalina

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Recent comments

  • Bridget Curran
    March 27, 2012 - 11:57

    "The way that operates is that the seal skins — I am being told — are worked on for about two years before they are ready to process" It's that what they're now calling stockpiling pelts cos nobody wants them - "being worked on"? Give me a break. The seal hunt is inherently inhumane, ecologically unsound and economically unviable. And now even DFO scientists are saying the harp seal herd is declining and quotas must be decreased. The Minister's recent decision to ignore his own scientists and set an unsustainably high TAC of 400,000 saying he was guided by "unanimous recommendation of industry representatives" makes it blatantly obvious DFO's decisions are based on politics and not science. It's time to call it a day. The markets are gone and they're not coming back. If govt truly cared about sealers they would stop the empty gestures and stupid PR stunts and implement a long-lasting solution that would benefit everyone, in the form of a one-time licence buyout. Bridget Curran, Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition

  • ChrisP
    March 27, 2012 - 09:30

    If the seal hunt ends it will be both a tragedy for rural Newfoundland and a defeat for logic, truth and fairness. For many years the anti-sealing activists have used lies, half-truths, propaganda and intimidation to force their agenda down people's throats like a glorified schoolyard bully. I will never understand how these childish and hateful people managed to sucker Europe into believing their radical, reactionary tripe. But the blame is not theirs alone. The Canadian government has often given their vocal support in the media for the seal hunt, but have done little or nothing concrete to help it. Where is the trade deal with China we were promised? The seal population in eastern Canada grows out of control year by year. Literally millions of seals now threaten the fragile codfish stocks off our east coast, and with no predator other than man having sufficient numbers and techniques to keep their growing numbers in check, the end of the seal hunt will leave us facing a possible ecological disaster in coming years. It's amazing how those groups who falsely claim to protect nature so often end up harming it through their inexcusable short-sightedness.

    • Natalia
      March 28, 2012 - 00:30

      Are you serious???? Have some compassion for animals that feel as much as you do. I have seen the videos and pictures of those seals suffering at the hands of the killers! The trade needs to end, it doesn't even employ many workers so it wouldn't be too hard for the government to help find them work. Its also a reason why people wont travel to Canada, and tourism can help bring money to Canada not a dying industry.

    • Marie
      March 28, 2012 - 06:08

      No-one 'suckered' Europe into banning sealskin trade - we are not ignorant here in Europe, and it is ridiculous to imply that the EU don't make decisions after much research. Ethics come first, and money should never lead us to overlook what's right & wrong. Killing any living creature is wrong, end of story. It is prescribed in every religion, but it has been buried over centuries so that people can continue with their cruel & unconscious ways. That includes Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. If you don't believe that read this well researched book: 'Vegetarianism and the world religions'. We don't need to balance nature, nature has always, and will always balance itself out. Culling animals is wrong & misguided. Killing animals and supporting those that kill them, is a serious crime for which there are serious karmic consequences, both during & after life. To live purely we must not harm other living beings, physically or mentally. The world is spiritually evolving Canada, so catch up!

  • macky
    March 27, 2012 - 08:48

    Why don't the sealers just accept the fact that the seal fishery is "dead". The writing is on the wall, there are just no markets and they are living in a fools paradise.

  • Not Me
    March 27, 2012 - 08:04

    Who cares.