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Take Action: Change Canada's Blind Eye to Sustainable Fishing Practices/Slaughter of Baby Seals PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marjorie Holt   
Thursday, April 22 2010

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September 25, 2009

Join the Boycott to End the Hunt
Boycotting Canadian seafood puts pressure on Canada's fishing industry to end the seal hunt

The Humane Society of the United States

Nigel Barker
Animal and environment protection organizations have negotiated for years with the Canadian government to put an end to its seal hunt—the largest commercial slaughter of marine mammals in the world.

But as the kill levels and the cruelty of the hunt escalate, it is clear Canada will only take action once the politics and economics surrounding this issue change.

This is why the ProtectSeals network, which includes The HSUS, called for a boycott of Canadian seafood products the minute the first baby seal was killed on March 29, 2005. The network believes the Canadian government will quickly realize the economic impact of a fisheries boycott is too high a price to pay for the seal hunt.

To date, more than 5,000 restaurants and grocery stores have joined the Protect Seals campaign.  Some of the national corporations that are participating in the ProtectSeals boycott of Canadian seafood include Whole Foods Markets, Ted's Montana Grill, Trader Joe's, BI-LO, WinCo Foods, Harris Teeter, The Fresh Market, Oceanaire Seafood Room, Bon Appetit Management Company and Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Cafes.  

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 They are making clear to Canada's fishing industry that there are certain practices that are simply inconsistent with responsible, humane marine stewardship and that the commercial seal hunt is one of them. Until Canada’s fishing industry rises to a higher level of compassionate marine stewardship by giving up its support for and engagement in the commercial seal hunt, thousands of socially conscious companies are electing to shift their seafood purchasing away from it. To join them, click here for the ProtectSeals pledge form.

It is the connection between commercial fisheries and the seal hunt, and the economics of both industries, which makes a boycott of Canadian seafood products a logical next step in ending the annual hunt. And it is American consumers and businesses that purchase Canadian seafood who have the power to convince the Canadian government and individual fishermen to stop the slaughter of seals.

Commercial seal hunting is an off-season activity conducted over just a few days by a few thousand fishermen from Canada's east coast. On average, the fishermen who participate in the commercial seal hunt earn a tiny fraction of their annual incomes from sealing. Out of a population of more than 30 million people, less than 5,000 Canadians participate in the commercial seal hunt each year.

Sealing accounts for a tiny fraction of the value of Canada's fishery. Even in Newfoundland, where 90% of sealers live, the economic contribution of the seal hunt is marginal at best. Ninety-eight percent of the landed value of Newfoundland's fishery comes from fish, while less than 3 percent comes from seals.

The bulk of Canadian seafood—roughly two thirds of it—is exported to the United States, generating more than $2.5 billion (CAD) annually for the Canadian economy. This amount dwarfs the small economic contribution made by the seal hunt. The landed value of the 2007 seal hunt is estimated to be in the $12 million (CDN) range.

The importance of snow crabs
Since nine out of ten sealers reside in Newfoundland, it makes sense to target the fishermen in that region. One way to get them to listen to the international outrage over the seal hunt is to hit them in the pocketbook, and that means snow crabs. Prior to the launch of the ProtectSeals boycott, snow crabs were the most important source of income for Newfoundland's fishing communities.

The vast majority of Canadian snow crabs come from Newfoundland and other sealing provinces. By eliminating just this one product from their menus, American grocery stores and restaurants are sending a direct message to the very industry and individuals responsible for the seal hunt. Other grocery stores and restaurants are boycotting all seafood from sealing provinces, and still others are boycotting all seafood from Canada. We welcome all of their help.

Sign the pledge
The Canadian government, Canada's fishing industry, and individual sealers face an important economic decision. Until Canada's commercial seal hunt is ended for good, the ProtectSeals network will continue its boycott of Canadian seafood products. Individuals can sign the pledge here.

If you own or run a restaurant or grocery store that sells Canadian seafood, your choice not to sell Canadian seafood products, such as snow crabs, can play a vital role in helping us end the seal hunt. By signing our pledge form, you will help us demonstrate to the Canadian fishing community that continuing the seal hunt puts at risk the most lucrative parts of its industry. Click here to sign the pledge to boycott Canadian seafood.

Fast facts about Canada's seal hunt
It's a cruel slaughter.

Fully 95 percent of the harp seals killed over the past five years have been under three months of age. At the time of slaughter, many of these defenseless pups had not yet eaten their first solid food or taken their first swim—they literally had no escape from the "hunters."
Video evidence clearly shows sealers routinely dragging conscious pups across the ice with boathooks, shooting seals and leaving them to suffer in agony, and even skinning seals alive.
In 2001, an independent team of veterinary experts studied Canada's commercial seal hunt. Their report concluded that in 42% of the cases they examined, the seal did not show enough evidence of cranial injury to even guarantee unconsciousness at the time of skinning.
It's a reckless cull.

Over the past three years, nearly a million seal pups have been slaughtered for their fur.
The last time sealers killed this many seals—in the 1950s and '60s—the harp seal population was quickly reduced by as much as two thirds.
Global warming is compounding the situation.  In 2007, the Government of Canada continued with the seal hunt despite estimates by Canadian government scientists that as many as 90 percent of the seal pups in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence died because of poor ice conditions.
Scientists around the world have condemned the Canadian government's management plan for harp seals as reckless, unsustainable, and irresponsible.
The seal hunt brings in very little money.

Even in Newfoundland, where 90% of sealers live, income from sealing accounts for less than one-tenth of 1% of the province's economy.
Sealers are fishermen who engage in several fisheries throughout the year, and sealing revenues account for only about one twentieth of their total incomes.
Killing seals may harm fish stocks.

About 3% of a harp seal's diet consists of commercially fished cod. However, harp seals also consume many significant predators of cod, including squid. Removing harp seals may mean an increase in cod predators.
The Canadian government clearly states there is no evidence that killing harp seals will help fish stocks recover, and scientists have expressed concerns that culling seals may in fact impede the recovery of ground fish stocks.
If you oppose the seal hunt, you're in good company.

Polling shows 79 percent of American voters oppose the Canadian seal hunt. This opposition cuts across all regions of the county and all political parties.  (Penn, Schoen & Berland, 2002).
In 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution calling on Canada to bring its commercial seal hunt to an end. 
Nearly 70 percent of Canadians holding an opinion are opposed to the commercial seal hunt outright, and even higher numbers oppose specific aspects of the hunt such as the killing of seal pups.  Only 4 percent said that they would be very upset if the hunt ended. (Environics Research, 2005) 
Close to 80 percent of the people who are aware of the Canadian seal hunt in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and France oppose it as well.  (Penn, Schoen & Berland, 2002 and MORI, 2002.)  
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