They flew in Monday night and, on Tuesday, three representatives of Humane Society International Canada were meeting with community groups and government representatives in St. John’s, laying out what they see as a reasonable means of ending the commercial seal hunt.
“As an organization, we’re working to try to build ties with sealers and sealing communities and affected communities and Newfoundland rural areas to try to work towards a buyout of the industry that reflects the fact that it is coming to an end, due to climate change and due to international markets closing,” said Nick Wright, who works the society’s anti-sealing campaign. Wright said the organization is looking to “bridge past differences” with sealers, to develop a united voice in promoting a buyout of commercial licences.
“To be clearer, our goal is that Canada will prohibit commercial sealing,” said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International Canada. However, she said, the organization now sees the potential for its goals to serve the interest of individual fishermen.
She said sealers are facing poor prices, a lack of market for seals and the impacts of climate change on ice conditions, making the hunt harder to conduct and less profitable. The Humane Society believes these conditions will continue.
Aldworth and Wright were in St. John’s with Michael Bernard, a colleague and lobbyist for the Humane Society in Ottawa. While the delegation expressed interest in contacting sealers, Aldworth admitted there was no attempt to arrange a meeting with the Canadian Sealers Association. Association spokesman Frank Pinhorn has previously told The Telegram it continues the fight to have sealing respected as a humane, sustainable industry. The association’s feelings on the future of the hunt remain diametrically opposed to those of organizations like the Humane Society, Pinhorn has said. Pinhorn has accused the association of using the hunt as a fundraising “cash cow,” something Aldworth dismissed, pointing to the organization’s not-for-profit status.
It remains unclear how many sealers will participate in the hunt this year. The season at The Front is scheduled to start April 12 at 6 a.m.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans estimates 7.7 million harp seals to be in the North Atlantic. The total allowable catch for the hunt has been set at 400,000 seals, the same as last year.
Only about 10 per cent of that quota was taken in 2011 and the Canadian Sealers Association has predicted a similar showing this year. There had been no commitment from processors for the purchase of seal as late as March 27 and sealers have been advised to check with their buyers to confirm a market for their catch before going sealing.
The CBC has reported NuTan Furs in Catalina won’t be buying pelts this year. No one from the Nu Tan tannery was available to speak to The Telegram Tuesday. However, Mike Voisey, the owner of Slippers ‘N Things in Happy Valley-Goose Bay (www.slippersnthings.com) — a business specializing in high-quality provincial art and craft products — said the seal skins used in creating the seal fur gloves, hats and slippers sold by his business were typically supplied by NuTan. He said as he understands it, those skins are not going to be available from NuTan this year.
“That puts us in an awkward position,” he said. Slippers ‘N Things takes every effort to sell products made in Newfoundland and Labrador, with materials from this province. “We’re now in the process of trying to find another tannery on the island. Hopefully we’re going to be successful, because we do — sealskin products is one of our specialties and people like it,” Voisey said.
At the Fur Institute of Canada, Rob Cahill acknowledged the year is set to be another tough one for the seal industry. “I understand that there’s been a bit of a re-alignment in the industry in Newfoundland and last week (G.C. Rieber) Carino company out of Trinity Bay announced they will be buying this year. So that’s certainly encouraging and it’s going to help — we understand they have domestic and international markets that are strong enough, certainly, to warrant buying new product. So it’s obviously a good thing,” he said.
He said an anti-hunt lobby was just one factor in bringing the industry to its current state.
“Since 2006, when prices were a record high of $105, there have been a lot of different developments that have impacted price and availability,” he said.
He said prices were inflated in 2006, leading to a natural drop the following year. As time continued on, he said, international market considerations came into play, including an economic crisis in Russia and a “softening” of the Asian economy. “There was certainly a lot more pressure and profile, politically and publicly, around the EU ban of 2009.”
The next hit was environmental factors, he said, including poor ice conditions from 2009-2011.
Since last year’s hunt, trade restrictions on seal products were proposed by the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, closing potential markets for 2012.
With sealers not taking the full quota of seals, Cahill said he has heard suggestions of a cull being a good idea to keep the seal population in check.
“From our perspective, that could lead to more taxpayer costs and potentially less welfare practices used and a wasting of the resource. Those are concerns to us,” he said.
The provincial Department of Fisheries could not comment on the meeting with the Humane Society reps Tuesday, but offered to follow-up with The Telegram in the coming days.