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.