Anti-seal hunt group seeks new ally — sealers
News of Russian seal ban sparks talk of buyout for sealers
After years of being the nemesis of sealers in the annual seal hunt, an international animal rights group is now reaching out to their historical foes, saying an alliance is crucial to the future of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Humane Society International says it is time for the federal government to buy out the remaining sealing licenses and compensate sealers for loss of income because the death knell for the industry is sounding.
A chart on the World Trade Organization website shows that Canada’s largest market for seal products, Russia, banned the import and export of seal products in August.
The executive director of Humane Society International/Canada said that news means it’s time for sealers and activists to get proper compensation for sealers and their communities.
Rebecca Aldworth said sealers would still be able to earn a living and transition to new work, while activists would be able to see the end of the seal hunt.
“We’re not trying to take money out of their pockets. We’re trying to find a way forward,” said Aldworth, herself a Newfoundlander. “To me, the idea of a buyout seems the right way forward.”
Aldworth estimated a buyout would cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, but argued the one-time cost could be less than ongoing annual spending on the seal hunt, including enforcing regulations.
The Canadian Sealers Association could not be reached Monday night for comment.
The annual seal hunt has attracted significant international attention, with animal rights activists lobbying for years to end the hunt.
Sealers argue that much of the information that those groups put out is misleading and that seals are killed humanely. The hunt is crucial to rural sealers who can earn up to half of their annual income in one sealing season, according to the Canadian Sealers Association.
A number of trading partners, including the United States and the European Union, have banned the import of seal products. The federal government is fighting the ban at the WTO and has also signed a trade agreement with China that opens that market to Canadian seal products.
Russia along with Belarus and Kazakhstan banned the import of seal products in August, but the information only recently came to light. According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, up to 90 per cent of seal pelt exports end up in Russia, usually via Norway.
The news that Russia has closed its doors to seal products will be a backdrop to meetings Aldworth said are planned for January between her group and sealers. The goal is to come out with a united front, which won’t be easy, she said.
“There’s a lot of history that’s hard to get beyond,” she said.
Humane Society International says the majority of sealers are in support of a buyout.
An Ipsos Reid telephone poll of 267 Newfoundlanders, 181 of whom held sealing licenses, found that half supported the idea of a federal buyout.
The poll, commissioned by Humane Society International, was conducted between Dec. 7, 2009 and Jan. 24, 2010 and has a margin of error of 7.3 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
When Ipsos Reid conducted a telephone interview with 1,000 Newfoundlanders and asked them whether if a majority of sealers supported a buyout, would they too support it, the majority — 54 per cent — said they somewhat or strongly supported the idea.
The poll was conducted between Jan. 3 and Jan. 16, 2011. The margin of error is 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.