Canada’s annual seal hunt began last week, much to the dismay of, among others, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Chefs for Seals — the organization’s anti-sealing campaign — has, for eight years, promoted a boycott against all Canadian fish and seafood products as a means of pressuring Ottawa to impose a ban on commercial sealing.
The campaign’s Facebook page states that, “More than 6,000 restaurants and grocery stores (in addition to 800,000 individuals) have joined the Protect Seals boycott of Canadian seafood. They are making it clear that the Canadian annual commercial seal hunt is an unacceptable business practice undertaken by Canada’s fishing industry.
Why, though, is commercial sealing an unacceptable business practice?
Seals aren’t endangered. Indeed, the threat status for harp seals — determined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature — is “least concern” and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), in a 2011 report on the status of Northwest Atlantic harp seals, indicates that, “The current population is at its highest level seen in the 60 year time series.”
For instance, an estimated eight million harp seals inhabit Newfoundland’s eastern coast, 400% higher than the DFO’s 1950 estimate. Furthermore, sealers harvested an average of 65.14% of the annual total allowable catch between 1971 and 2013 (though the HSUS claims otherwise). The commercial seal hunt is not, therefore, a conservation issue.
On the contrary, the Northwest Atlantic harp seal’s predatory nature necessitates population control measures that mitigate its ecological impact. For instance, harp seals consume tenfold Canada’s annual seafood export and are a major impediment to regenerating Newfoundland’s vulnerable fish population. Employing the commercial seal hunt to cull Newfoundland’s seal population is, consequently, justifiable considering its predaciousness and explosive growth rates.
Similarly, the European Union — despite its charlatan opposition to the Canadian seal harvest — permits seal culling to protect its fish stocks.
As a result, adversaries of the commercial seal hunt justify their opposition on moral grounds – an appeal to emotion instead of reason.
The ethicality of seal hunting, however, compares with (if not exceeds) other methods of animal slaughter. Unlike cows and pigs, for instance, seals are free-range animals liberated from the vices of factory farming. Furthermore, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the World Wildlife Fund consider the hakapik — a club used by seal hunters (with the exception of the Inuit, who use harpoons) – to be a humane method of slaughter. Not to mention that it is illegal to slaughter newborn seals, despite the stubborn use of imagery suggesting otherwise.
Nevertheless, the Chefs for Seals campaign vows to promote the senseless boycott of Canadian fish and seafood products until the federal government imposes a ban on commercial seal hunting: “Canada’s sealers make much more money from exporting seafood to the United States than they do from killing seal pups, and this gives us a lever.”
That “lever” reprimands an entire industry for the supposed wrongdoings of a select group of individuals accused of neglecting Canadian rules and regulations. Anyone who violates Canada’s laws and regulations regarding the humane culling of seals, and engages in unethical hunting practices, undoubtedly merits opprobrium. Scapegoating hardworking Canadians, though, is absurd (especially considering the environmental and ethical inconsistencies of HSUS’s campaign).
Ultimately, however, consumer preference outweighs any argument for or against harvesting seals – a cold reality for Canadian industry, which must defend itself against HSUS’s outlandish campaign. The facts above make a good place to start.
Shaun Fantauzzo is a policy analyst and the AIMS on Campus Project Coordinator at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
*This piece appeared in the 28 November 2013 opinion section of the National Post