It’s no secret that the annual seal harvest is a controversial topic. In our province, it’s blasphemy to speak against the hunt; anyone who does so would be committing political hari-kari with a hakapik. To even suggest re-evaluating the validity of our over-500 year practice will get you media attention that you don’t want. Just ask Ryan Cleary.
Politicians of any political stripe — whether they be provincial or federal — on a yearly basis, when the harvest gets underway in March, will once again reaffirm that they support the harvest and the people who take part. The horribly drawn out, long-winded and unemotional talking points are always the same.
“We are very strongly in opposition to the ban,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper many years ago. “The seal hunt is a legitimate economic pursuit and the ban is based neither on science or fact.” The prime minister will even go so far as take a bite of raw seal meat for a good photo op to let Newfoundlanders and Labradorians know that he and his government support the hunt.
That’s not to forget the premier, sitting in her seal leather upholstered chair in the House of Assembly, staunchly promoting the use of seal products across the world.
On her trips to China, we can see Dunderdale trading sealskin briefcases for boosts in polls, then returning home with glorious news that the Chinese might eventually, someday in the future, buy seal meat and pelts.
The only people who the federal and provincial governments fail at convincing that the seal hunt is an environmentally sustainable harvest, a humane harvest, an economically viable harvest, is the European Union.
When the EU placed a full embargo on seal products, much to the dismay of the Newfoundland and Labrador, even garnering the occasional grimace from Harper, the seal hunt imploded. Hunters hung up their hakapiks, kept their boats docked and rifles shelved. Pelts plummeted from over $100 a piece to having to break a $20 bill for change, taking away any financial incentive to most sealers.
Finally, when the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) came to the forefront, it was the country’s and the provinces’ chance to pull a hard trump card to sign into the trade deal: either you lift the ban, or no dice. Instead, the people of our province heard the announcement that the government was giving up minimum processing requirements (MPRs) in exchange for a $400-million fishery fund to slowly rehabilitate people out of the industry.
We were let down, yet again. Our souls were sold for little return, other than the sellout of a vital piece of the fishing industry. It was a chance to take a hard line and defend
the sealers of Newfoundland and Labrador, and our governments failed.
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The World Trade Organization panel found that the EU was in violation of blatant trade agreement obligations; however, it upheld the ban based on a special exemption that the European Union can place sanctions on products based on ethical and moral grounds.
Last year, many European parliaments set up seal culls to curb populations in order to protect salmon farms and other fish stocks. How is the cull of seals to rot on the shoreline humane or sustainable? How
is it deemed ethical or moral to slaughter animals and make no use of their bodies?
Why, then, is it immoral to do the same to protect Newfoundland and Labrador’s fish stocks? Commercial stocks are subject to continued pillaging and ravaging by the largest seal populations in the world, the Arctic harp seal herd, at over 7 million.
On one hand, the European governments agree and sanction irresponsible and unsustainable culls. On the other, they condemn the humane and regulated Canadian harvest. The hypocrisy to claim that our hunt is inhumane and immoral is astounding, and it’s embarrassing that leaders would be so obtuse.
IFAW, Greenpeace and PETA perpetuate lies and propaganda that the hunt is barbaric, inhumane and outdated.
They claim that they produce science and facts, when they won’t accept legislation that prevents the killing of white coat and blueback pups. Throwing plush dolls of these animals at EU parliamentarians certainly makes one beg to differ about their facts.
But a cute seal with big black eyes brings in the money and public support, much more than a cow trotting around in field of its own manure. It worked with flying colours and the seal hunt protesters continue to berate and bludgeon politicians with nonsensical mugwumpery and cute pictures.
It’s time for the Canadian and Newfoundland and Labrador governments to step up and hold the EU and the WTO to task. Our sealers and culture are the first priority, not sellouts, and not trade deals. Until we can continue our practice freely without harassment from ignoramuses in IFAW and the pirates in Greenpeace, the seal hunt is not being protected. It time for action, not harping on a cause we already support and clubbing it to death. Long live the hunt!
Noah Davis-Power writes from
Conception Bay South.