East Coast seal hunt continues amid legal wrangling over European ban

The Canadian Press
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HALIFAX — A ruling Thursday from a European court is expected to reignite an international debate over Canada’s annual East Coast seal hunt, which started with little notice earlier this month off the north coast of Newfoundland.

A group led by the Canadian Fur Institute has asked the Luxembourg-based General Court of the European Union to strike down a three-year-old EU ban on seal products.

The ban has dealt a serious blow to Canada’s centuries-old commercial sealing industry, which landed only 38,000 harp seals in 2011, less than 10 per cent of the total allowable catch.

But the ban didn’t kill the hunt.

Even though it was followed by Russia’s 2011 decision to prohibit imports of harp seal pelts — eliminating Canada’s largest market — the hunt has actually rebounded, taking more than 70,000 seals last year.

The revival came after a $2-million provincial loan to Carino Processing Ltd. of South Dildo, N.L., the world’s largest seal processing company. The province has offered another $3 million this year, though Carino has not said who is buying its pelts and seal oil.

The federal Fisheries Department says 844 hunters have taken more than 76,000 seals so far this season, 98 per cent of them off Newfoundland.

Still, the hunt is a shadow of what it once was. Between 2004 and 2006, hunters killed more than 300,000 seals every year.

In an unusual move, the federal government has allowed this year’s hunt to go ahead without setting the annual total allowable catch limit, which has been set at 400,000 since 2011.

“It’s reprehensible,” said Rebecca Aldworth, Canadian director of Humane Society International. “The public has a right to know how the Canadian government is managing any animal species.”

The Fisheries Department declined a request for an interview earlier this week and Newfoundland’s fisheries minister, Derrick Dalley, was unavailable for comment.

The head of the fur institute, Rob Cahill, said even if his group succeeds in having the EU ban overturned, the EU is expected to launch an appeal that would keep the ban in place until the appeal is heard. That could take years to settle.

“However, the precedent will be a strong legal one,” Cahill said in an email. “Remember that the EU was never the largest market for seal products, but their policy position is globally influential ... Long and complicated process and battle for sure.”

Aldworth said the sealing industry could hardly claim a victory if the ban is struck down.

“The European market has been removed for several years and any overturning of that ban would not simply re-establish a market,” she said in an interview from Montreal.

“There are few places left on this planet for the sealing industry to sell its products.”

Meanwhile, the Canadian government is moving ahead with its own bid to challenge the ban through the World Trade Organization. Hearings are slated for next week and a decision is expected later this year.

Aldworth, a Newfoundlander who has observed the hunt for 15 years, said her group would like to see the industry mothballed and all seal hunters offered compensation.

Animal welfare groups have long argued the hunt has left a stain on Canada’s reputation because they believe the slaughter is inhumane and unsustainable.

Aldworth said her group recently returned from the floes off northern Newfoundland, where film crews recorded the usual gruesome scenes.

“(We saw) seals that were shot in the face but still crawling around on the ice in their own blood and had to be shot multiple times to render them unconscious,” she said. “It’s very much the kind of killing that we film every year.”

Though Canada’s sealing industry represents a tiny fraction of the East Coast’s fishing industry, the annual hunt has loomed large on the region’s political landscape since the 1700s.

Last year, the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature adopted a resolution that stated: “The seal hunt has been a staple of our history for as long as the codfish. These industries are the cornerstones of our predominant maritime economy.”

Virtually all of the country’s 11,000 registered seal hunters live in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The federal government has maintained its support of the slaughter, saying the hunt offers crucial economic support for isolated communities and is carried out using humane practices.

The Fisheries Department says the harvest provides direct employment for over 6,000 people on a part-time basis, though the numbers regarding the economic impact vary widely.

Organizations: European Union, Canadian Fur Institute, Carino Processing Ltd. of South Dildo Humane Society International Fisheries Department World Trade Organization

Geographic location: Canada, East Coast, Newfoundland and Labrador Russia Montreal Northern Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Ernie Ford
    April 29, 2013 - 08:42

    Nswan...Maybe you should get your facts straight before you make a comment like this. It's been several years since the sealers were able to hunt "seal pups". Only adult seals are taken in this hunt. Unlike the slaughter of small calves that are used for veal in (as you put it) the rest of the world.

    • karin
      May 02, 2013 - 12:50

      Regardless of whether it is baby animals or adults, all hunting for fur, trophies etc is wrong. This is not subsistence hunting any more. Seal skin is a product no longer needed and it's long overdue for humans to stop using and abusing the animals we share this planet with.

  • NSwan
    April 27, 2013 - 17:48

    I was surprised by the vehemence of those who oppose Laureen's statement. Then, I thought again and realized that anyone who supports the mass bludgeoning of defensive seal pups is not likely to rational debate. I imagine this type of mass murder doesn't leave much room for humanity and higher reasoning. Thank goodness the rest of the world thinks differently. Unfortunately, Canada's rep is damaged significantly by this senseless yearly slaughter. And for what-we all know very well that the government has subsidized this event so we can no longer claim that it is a viable means of financial support. Im beginning to wonder if these men like bashing in the skulls of small animals just to vent off some steam.

    • Percy
      April 28, 2013 - 02:06

      To..... NSWAN...........What about the seal hunt in SCOTLAND, SWEDEN, AND FINLAND, they have, to protect the cod fish stocks? Not a whimper from you about that. ...GO figure.... And...other countries kill animals.....England, and other countries.... You need to do YOUR homework before you criticize CANADA. That IS THE POT CALLING THE KETTLE BLACK.... Do NOT criticize us, when these same counties hunt seals.....that is a pure hypocritical... I rest my case......

    • Percy
      April 28, 2013 - 02:07

      To..... NSWAN...........What about the seal hunt in SCOTLAND, SWEDEN, AND FINLAND, they have, to protect the cod fish stocks? Not a whimper from you about that. ...GO figure.... And...other countries kill animals.....England, and other countries.... You need to do YOUR homework before you criticize CANADA. That IS THE POT CALLING THE KETTLE BLACK.... Do NOT criticize us, when these same counties hunt seals.....that is a pure hypocritical... I rest my case......

  • Ernie Ford
    April 25, 2013 - 12:56

    Yay Laureen.....I totally agree with your comment...(only the last sentence though...) We don't ever want you to set foot in Newfoundland or Labrador either.

  • The Seal Hunt is a necessity because there is too much competition on the fish stocks by the European Union and the Seals. The seals will have to lose in that fight.
    April 25, 2013 - 08:34

    The European countries, now known as the EU, have been over fishing Newfoundland and Labrador offshore waters forever; and in recent years they have shown up in all of the World's oceans, and have decimated almost every ocean's fish stocks to near annihilation. Spain has the most notorious name in the group, but all of them have a voracious appetite for the fish stocks and they will utilize any method to over fish, that is known to mankind, including having 'false holds' in their boats to conceal their catches. They have been caught in our waters with that infraction, but they only got a reprimand with no penalty. I AM NOW WONDERING, if the 3 year ban on seals is overturned and sanctioned by the European Union, will it be a move that the EU is making to appease Ottawa because it wants to be have the free will under the newly proposed EU/Canada Trade Agreement, to be allowed fish right to the shorelines of Newfoundland and Labrador and compete with the few Newfoundland and Labrador fishers that are left in the fishing industry in our province? The EU group of countries is a very frightening entity as it pertains to its fishing activities Newfoundland and Labrador's waters, but only because Ottawa has allowed the fish quotas in Newfoundland and Labrador's fishing waters to be traded off as the enabler to conduct international trade for Central Canada.

  • matt
    April 25, 2013 - 06:46

    Lauren what a relief one less brainless,bleeding heart Liberal on the Rock. Why don't you go to the super market & buy some mad cow from the E. U.

    • I.M.Reasonable
      April 25, 2013 - 12:57

      Nicely said Matt. I would like to add that whether you are for or against the seal hunt, it is simply wrong to judge the whole population of that wonderful province by one activity, good or bad. Lauren, I guess you live in some area where no one ever does wrong. Maybe you should go to Newfoundland or even Afghanistan and teach people how to behave properly.

    April 24, 2013 - 23:26

    Where or What does the White Fishing Fleet and all the Other European Countries that fly their flags On the Grand Banks Of NEWFOUNDLAND, of the Many different Countries that come there to fish, Countries all over the world, What does ALL those fishing fleet fishermen think that the many Millions OF Seals Are EATING ? Rocks or SEA WEED? NO ! THEY ARE COMPETING WITH THE FISHING FLEET FOR FISH AND IN RETURN THE FISH ARE PICKING UP THEIR TAPE WORMS. THE TIME HAS LONG Been PASSING TO REDUCE THE LARGEST Problem that is DESTROYING THE LARGEST FOOD SOURCE IN THE WORLD The Northern Cod Stock The Seals are going up rivers after trout and salmon, They have been seen miles up rivers from the ocean, They have Been seen in the rivers next to the Trans Canada Highway by the Roches Line Fishermen Has Hauled UP Crab Pots With Seals stuck in the mouth of the pots; drowned trying to get at the crab in the pots The Many Millions Of Hungry Seals Are DESTROYING THE GREAT COD STOCK AN ALL OTHER FISH IN THE OCEAN, NTV NEWS SHOWED A NEWS CLIP OF SEALS DRIVING COD FISH UPON THE SEA SHORE, AND PEOPLE PICKING UP LIVE FISH DRIVEN UPON THE BEACH BY SEALS. FISHERMEN IN THE AREA SAID THE SMALL COVE WHERE THIS WAS FILMED WAS 5-6 Feet DEEP WITH DEAD FISH WITH THEIR BELLIES TORN OUT,IT IS SAID THE SEALS ONLY EAT THE FISH LIVERS.

  • Ford Elms
    April 24, 2013 - 18:23

    Why does CBC NL continue to give a voice to Rebecca Aldworth? She works for HSUS, a company that has been shown in court to have faked the video "evidence" for their offensive claims, not only in this country, but in the US and Europe. A company that currently is up on racketeering charges in the US. A company that was recently implicated in the framing of an innocent farmer in the US, using the so called "Ohio dairy farm video" that was distributed on the Internet a couple of years ago. A company that uses the names of businesses in their "boycott" of Canadian seafood without ever asking for permission to do so. In many instances these businesses aren't even involved in the "boycott" and are still selling Canadian seafood. Yet you report what she says as though it was fact. I can appreciate the need for balanced reporting, but how is this balanced? In what other issue would you "get the other side" from a group that has been demonstrated time and again to lie? In what other issues do you "get the other side" from racketeers? You aren't "getting the other side of the issue", you are giving free media time to an already well funded company that has used lies, slander, misinformation, hate speech, and faked evidence to exploit innocent Canadian fishermen. How is that "balanced reporting"? It's much the same as if you tried to "get the other side" of civil rights issues from the KKK. It would be bad enough of this was the national CBC, but you're local. You know better. You're helping people you know to be ruthless, narcissistic, and fundamentally dishonest industrialists to slander and exploit your own people. Why? And why do you not try more actively to expose what you know to be blatantly dishonest propaganda that is damaging the incomes of your fellow Newfoundlanders? The last, and as far as I am aware, the only time CBC has ever done a piece on this was when Mark Kelly, not a Newfoundlander I'd like to point out, did a piece when Paul McCartney came over here to play the British nobleman looking down his nose at the "demned colonials". Instead, you happily give a voice to companies that exploit your own people with never a word about the lies, the slander, and the hypocrisy. I can't fathom why you would do that.

  • Percy
    April 24, 2013 - 18:00

    Well, oh well, people complain about the seals we kill. I would advise Ms. Aldworth to check and see how many babies that were still alive after abortions, performed at the Gosnell clinic in Philadelphia. Please check out the news on Dr.Kermit Gosnell, Abortion doctor, now on trial in Philadelphia. What was going on for years in that clinic was beyond human comprehension. The main line news stations wouldn't touch it. I wonder why? Just goggle WND...World News Daily, and Lifenews.com if you want to read some gruesome news as to what was going on at that abortion clinic. Your head would spin, forever and a day. We can kill babies, and call it abortion, useless tissue. Then to hear about little babies still alive after the abortions were preformed, and what was done to them, is just absolutely unimaginable, to say the least. This doctor will get what he deserves through the justice system, however, there is a big day of final Judgement, that will be much more harsh then in this present world of liberal views. There is no turning back after this Judgement. So, we hear about the anti- sealing groups that complain about killing seals for human consumption, and for nutritional purposes, however, NOT a whimper about the killing of HUMAN LIFE. Animals have more protection then HUMANS. I say, we are, indeed, a society that has gone completely to the devil, and he is laughing his head off. But, GOD is watching.... One day he will be pitched in the bottomless pit...forever. And, every human being will face that FINAL judgement. And, remember the big lie of Hitler....If you tell a big enough lie, and tell it frequently enough. it will be believed. I rest my case!

  • Laureen
    April 24, 2013 - 16:30

    Our Government is so childish. This does not give them extra income. Quit giving the public more BS about this hunt. It is also NOT humane. You take all of the cod fish, but blame the seals. What a bunch of pathetic idiots running around the world trying to push this crap on other people. As Canadians we do not appreciate you doing this. You are on your own with this. Again, money is more important than life. I never EVER want to set foot in Newfoundland or Labrador.

    • I.M.Reasonable
      April 26, 2013 - 12:40

      Laureen, you really have no idea what you're talking about. Educate yourself and come back with a plausible argument. Actually, if you were educated, you would support the seal fishery.