Earlier this week, I debated Canadian Senator David Wells on Canada’s most popular morning TV show about the nation’s commercial seal slaughter off Canada’s east coast. The debate was prompted by comments made days earlier by celebrity chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain, who criticized our Canadian seafood boycott and said, “I’m all for protecting seals, but a total ban dooms the indigenous people above [the] Arctic Circle to death or relocation.” He called out dozens of chefs who’ve joined our Protect Seals campaign, and urged them to withdraw their support.
Bourdain could not be more wrong, as I noted on the show. He’s conflated the much smaller-scale subsistence hunting of seals in other parts of Canada that is conducted by Inuit people with the immense commercial slaughter of seals for their fur pelts in Atlantic Canada, which is conducted almost entirely by non-aboriginals. The latter group consists of off-season fishermen who kill the seals, then dump their carcasses in the ocean or leave them to rot. They attempt to sell the pelts to dealers who then peddle them on the international market. Few of these seal products are used locally in the maritime provinces of Canada where the hunt occurs.
Canada’s commercial seal hunt has claimed the lives of more than 2 million seals since 2002 alone, making it the largest slaughter of marine mammals on Earth. The government of Canada’s kill reports confirm 98 percent of the seals killed are younger than 3-months-old. Every year, our team documents the slaughter and comes back with video evidence of seals thrashing in pain due to inaccurate bullet wounds – often disappearing under the sea ice to die slowly without ever being recovered. We see fishermen impale still-conscious seal pups with boat hooks and drag them on board their vessels to be clubbed and skinned.
No amount of income derived from the hunt could justify this mass killing and cruelty. But what’s remarkable is that the whole enterprise is a financial boondoggle, enabled almost entirely and unwittingly by the Canadian taxpayers.
During the last couple of years, the landed value of the pelts obtained by the hunters is just north of $1 million a year. The government provides subsidies – including financing private companies to buy up pelts – that amount to millions. So the entire enterprise is a money-loser for Canada.
The Canadian government can turn into a savior, not an enabler, by conducting a buy-out of sealing licenses – a measure that we fully endorse. This simple plan would see the federal government end commercial sealing, compensate fishermen for any lost income, and invest in sustainable economic alternatives.
The fact is, no one in the world wants these seal pelts. The European Union bans their sale, and so do the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the United States, Mexico, and Taiwan. The markets for seal pelts have been shrinking and closing because good people throughout the world no longer want to be associated with this kind of cruelty. That goes for consumers, and for chefs. In fact, an army of chefs, along with 800,000 individuals and 6,500 businesses, are part of the Protect Seals boycott of Canadian seafood. We’re grateful to every one of them for their leadership and their decency, and we’ll continue with our efforts to expose the cruelty of the hunt, to close markets for these seal pelts, and to urge consumers to boycott Canadian seafood, until the fishing industry does the right thing and calls for the end to the commercial seal slaughter.