Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The European Commission, the Executive Branch of the European Union, will Meet to Discuss Prohibiting the Import of Seal Products

It’s not hard to see what such a monumental move would lead to. In short – the significant decrease in the horrible practice of baby seal slaughter from Canada and Namibia.

So, let’s hope compassion rules over the meeting. But, as with anything in which money is involved, don’t hope too much.

The group that is tireless in fighting this unfortunate spectacle of human cruelty is Sea Shepherd.

To follow their campaign and to support them in ending this ridiculously cruel and unnecessary annual slaughter fest, visit their site at:


Sealers brace for impact on industry as EU discusses import ban


ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — For animal welfare activists, this week could mark the first step to ending the largest marine mammal slaughter in the world.

For Canada's commercial seal hunters, it could represent the triumph of emotion over reason.

The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, is expected to discuss legislation Wednesday that aims to prohibit the import of seal products.

What's decided in the Berlaymont, an ornate 14-storey office tower in Brussels, Belgium, could have a far-reaching impact on outports throughout Atlantic Canada.

"It's the epitome of hypocrisy," said Jim Winter, a long-time advocate of the sealing industry.

"It just goes to prove that the European parliamentarians and the European bureaucracy are owned by the animal rights groups, multimillion-dollar, American-based organizations that have been spreading propaganda in Europe now for decades."

His views are echoed by many sealers who accuse both levels of government of lacking the political will to defend their centuries-old industry and way of life.

"Our own governments have let us down immensely," said Jack Troake, who has hunted seals off the coast of Twillingate, N.L., since 1951.

"If the ban goes in place, it's going to be interesting to see what Canada is going to do, to see what kind of a stand they'll take. I suspect it's not going to be nothing."

A spokesman for federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn said the minister would not comment until the EU votes on the proposed ban.

Trevor Taylor, acting fisheries minister in Newfoundland and Labrador, has called on the federal government to launch trade sanctions against Europe if the EU approves of a ban. He has complained that Ottawa has remained silent while animal rights activists in Europe rallied support for a ban.

"At the end of the day, the buck stops at the federal government level," Taylor said.

Premier Danny Williams and Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik wrote the prime minister in April, calling on him to ban the use of the hakapik from the annual hunt in the interests of defending its image.

Taylor, himself a sealer before entering politics, said his province has yet to hear a response.

In a brief statement on Friday after the federal government was criticized by Newfoundland and Labrador for not speaking up, Hearn said the federal government has shown its commitment to sealers on the international stage.

"We will continue to lead with a strong voice and strong actions on behalf of the sealers and the sealing industry," he said.

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper also said he raised the seal hunt with European Commission president Jose Barroso, and told him that EU member nations should carefully consider any measure that would restrict the sale of seal products within their borders.

Over the past two years, the federal and provincial governments have joined forces to lobby the EU in the hope of thwarting any legislation that would close its borders to Canadian seal products.

"Big deal," retorts Winter. "What did you achieve?"

In January 2007, the province hailed the European Commission for refusing to draft a prohibition on seal products. But since then momentum has shifted in favour of animal rights organizations that have waged a decades-long fight to end the commercial seal trade.

The seal hunt, arguably the most politically and emotionally charged issue in Newfoundland and Labrador, did not always arouse such public interest.

Its roots run deep in the province, where the seal was once second only to cod as the most economically vital species to catch.

Fishermen have caught seals on the heaving ice floes of the North Atlantic since the 16th century. After the advent of the steam vessel in the 1800s - an era nostalgically known as "the Great Days of Sealing" - the seal hunt accounted for about a third of the province's exports, with an annual harvest often exceeding 500,000 seals.

But by the 1970s, animal rights groups focused their attention on ending the hunt, gaining celebrity support in the process.

In 1983, after public pressure grew, Europe banned the import of products from harp seals up to two weeks old - known as whitecoats - and hooded seals up to 16 months of age - called bluebacks.

Ottawa prohibited the hunt of those animals four years later, delivering a blow to some sealers for several years. But the industry rebounded in the 1990s, and with it so did the annual quota.

In the past three years, the total allowable catch has hovered between 270,000 and 335,000 seals.

"The seal hunt was a part of our history and I think it needs to be put in the history books where it belongs," said Rebecca Aldworth, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the United States.

For 15 years, Aldworth, a Newfoundlander, has campaigned for the end of the commercial seal hunt.

With a ban possibly in sight, the federal government should offer sealers a compensation package to ease their transition out of a dying industry, Aldworth said.

"It's a tremendous feeling to know that a solution is finally within reach and there may be hope for the seals next year," she said.

Some fishermen say they depend on the seal hunt for up to 35 per cent of their annual income, but that can fluctuate from year to year depending on a host of factors including quota allocation, the market for seals and the price of other fish stocks.

But according to a survey conducted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in 2004, considered to be a typical year for seal pelt prices, 17 per cent of sealing enterprises earned more than 20 per cent of their revenue from the hunt.

Troake puts it another way. He says during peak seasons, some crew members can take in $10,000 to $12,000 for 10 days of work.

"I doubt you're making that kind of money," Troake said in an interview.

But he said the hunt is also significant because it is the first harvest of the year, offering fishermen an opportunity to earn much-needed income after months of unemployment in the winter.

The proposal to ban seal products has not been made public, but EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas has indicated its general thrust is to prohibit the import of products from seals that the EU determines have been killed inhumanely.

Any legislation would have to be unanimously approved by the EU's 27 commissioners. It would then go to the European Parliament and the EU presidency, France, to decide how to proceed with the matter.

It's difficult to determine the precise parameters of any ban the EU could adopt.

Rob Cahill, executive director of the Canadian Fur Institute, said the impact of a ban depends on the precise wording of the legislation. But he acknowledged that any ban would have a detrimental effect on the industry.

"Any ban, any sort of tainting of a product anywhere in the world, especially in a market the size and influence of Europe, is a negative influence," Cahill said.

"Many of the trends that are established and are in demand in Russia are established in Europe and if Europe is not allowing the seal products to come in, it could influence fashion in a negative way."

Another major concern for the sealing industry is that a ban would close critical shipment points such as Rotterdam, Holland and Hamburg, Germany, thereby forcing the seal trade to extend shipping routes to the bigger markets of Norway, Russia and China.

"If Europe is going to be able to pass legislation that is not based on good, sound science or good fact, then that is setting a bad precedent that we will fight right to the end," Cahill said.

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