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Canada Fights Back Against Seal Hunt Opponents



The showdown over Belgium's ban on Canadian seal products pits international trade against animal welfare. Joanna Smith looks at chocolate imports, dietary supplements and kangaroo shoes to put things in perspective


August 4, 2007


1 Mark Small has been hunting seals off the coast of Newfoundland since the year John Diefenbaker was elected prime minister of Canada. He was 17, one of a family of 11 children, when he first went out on the ice in 1957.

Now, at 67, he owns two fishing vessels outfitted with the latest equipment, including a satellite phone, radar and sonar systems, and all the comforts of home like a shower, refrigerator and cooking range.

He bought his 65-foot vessel for $1-million in 1998, and picked up a 35-footer for $250,000 in 2004.

He took the bigger boat and a crew of eight out on this year's hunt. They caught about 10,000 seals, which at an average of $100 a pelt brought in around $100,000.

[Harpseals.org note: See actual pelt prices here.]

Half the money stayed with him and his boat and the other half was split among the crew members, giving them about $6,000 each.

His crew members, who have to obtain licences as assistant sealers from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for $5 each, are not allowed to kill seals. Only professional sealers can do that.

The assistants are there to clean the pelts and learn the industry regulations under the captain's direction. After a two-year apprenticeship, they may obtain full licences to become professional sealers.


2 Souring trade relations with Belgium might have many sweet-toothed Canadians worried about how long creamy milk chocolate will be allowed through our ports.

As popular as it is, however, chocolate is well down the list of commodities that Belgium sends us. The latest numbers from Industry Canada put chocolate and other cocoa products in 16th place - just above combine harvesters.

Last year, Belgium exported $1.96-billion worth of goods to Canada, led by fuels and mineral oils, motor vehicles, pharmaceutical products, diamonds and - wait for it - beer.

In the other direction, Belgium is Canada's 10th most important export market. We exported $2.39-billion in goods to Belgium in 2006, including rough diamonds, nickel, linseed oil, zinc and durum wheat.


3 Seal oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to have health benefits ranging from lowering cholesterol to reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Nu Tan Furs Inc. operates a manufacturing plant in Catalina, Nfld., that processes seal oil, which is later sold as a dietary supplement in bottles of 120 capsules at an average of $10 a bottle.

Sixty people work at the plant, which renders, filters and refines the oil before adding a food-grade antioxidant. The product is shipped to Ontario or Alberta to be put in capsules and then sent back to Newfoundland for bottling and labelling by yet another company.

The biggest market for Nu Tan's seal oil capsules is Scandinavia, which accounts for about 45 per cent of business.


4 The International Fund for Animal Welfare Inc. has been leading the fight against Canada's seal hunt for decades.

Far from being a cash-strapped grassroots group painting posters in a university student's living room, the IFAW is a major charity with scientists and local program staff operating in 15 regional offices worldwide.

The IFAW's U.S. audited financial statement for the year ended June 30, 2006, shows the organization took in $9.9-million (U.S.) in donations and bequests. Total revenues, gains and other supports were $20.1-million. After $17.2-million in expenses, the IFAW had $31.4-million in net assets at the end of the fiscal year.

The 2006 annual report shows the Canadian branch devoted 82.3 per cent of its spending to program and institutional costs, and 17.7 per cent to fundraising.


5 Seals and sealers are not alone in stirring strong feelings. Just look at kangaroos and big-league soccer.

David Beckham switched to a synthetic leather version of his kangaroo skin adidas Predator soccer shoes last year out of respect for the vegetarian views of his wife, Victoria.

Now the English icon can't change his mind about his footwear, even if Posh would let him. He plays out of Los Angeles for the L.A. Galaxy, and California is down on kangaroo products.

Last month the Supreme Court of California upheld a state law banning the sale or import of anything made from kangaroos after a legal battle between animal rights activists and sportswear maker adidas AG.

The athletic apparel company argued the state law conflicted with the goals of the federal U.S. Endangered Species Act, which supports Australia's efforts to curb the exploding kangaroo population.

Many high-end soccer shoes are made from kangaroo hide, which is considered to be stronger and softer than calfskin.



Ottawa prepares WTO challenge on Belgian seal ban

Last Updated: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 | 7:04 AM AT
CBC News

Fisheries Minister Hearn
'Canada for a number of years has been known as a wuss at the international level,' Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn says.

The federal government is taking a Belgian ban on seal products to the World Trade Organization, with the fisheries minister saying Canada won't be "a wuss" against European boycotts.

Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn said while other countries have instituted bans because of the harp seal hunt on Canada's East Coast, Belgium has been targeted because it was the first country to do so since the Conservatives took power.

As well, Hearn said, Belgium holds an influential position in the European Union.

"Other countries are talking about it, and of course a number of our people involved in the industry have asked that we take action," said Hearn, who admitted that Canada has been too docile in the past in dealing with other nations on fisheries management issues.

"Canada, for a number of years, has been known as a wuss at the international level.… We are turning that around," he said. "If you want to play those games, then you'll have to fight it in the World Trade Organization circles."

Hearn blamed pressure from "animal rights groups, in particular" for leading individual countries.

Sealers Killing Seals
Canada's seal hunt has been a perennial target by animal welfare groups for more than three decades.

The EU itself has not banned the hunt, although earlier this year agreed to study the humaneness of the hunt.

The major markets for seal pelts are in China and Scandinavia.

Formally, Canada's next step is called seeking formal consultations through the WTO. Hearn warned the process of challenging the ban, though, could turn out to be complicated.

"If we can get a settlement at the early stages, it won't take long. If it goes to the full dispute settlement mechanisms, it will be lengthy and it will probably be costly," Hearn said.

The Canadian government supports the seal hunt, despite waves of protests from international organizations.

Hearn said inaccurate information about the hunt is pervasive.

Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution that called for an end to the hunt.

"With stunning barbarism Canadian hunters swoop in with heavy clubs and stun guns to immobilize these little innocent creatures," California Democrat Tom Lantos — who presented the resolution — said on Monday night.

"They are then skinned alive simply so that their soft, white fur can adorn winter coats."

Canada banned the hunt of whitecoats in the 1980s, following a royal commission on seals and sealing. Seals must lose their white fur before they can be killed, and most seals are shot to death with rifles. Hakapiks, or hooked clubs, are still used in a small but well-publicized hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

[Harpseals.org note: To read more on the WTO and its significance for the seals, click here.]



Seal hunt battle goes high-tech

Canada takes on U.S. activist group's seafood boycott with sophisticated computer software

TheStar.com - News

February 22, 2007
Tim Harper

WASHINGTON–As a U.S. Humane Society boycott of Canadian seafood began to have an effect, the Canadian embassy began a counteroffensive with what it is touting as the most sophisticated lobbying tool in the country.

The battle of the seal hunt has featured international celebrities, grim tales from distant ice floes and graphic photos of bloody clubs on one side and – in typically Canadian understated fashion – a computer software package on the other.

The embassy tool is known as GoCCART (Government of Canada Congressional Analysis and Research Tool), a computer program developed by an American company that allows Canadian advocates to drill deep into every congressional, state or local political district in the U.S. with the click of a mouse.

Who has the most fish processing plants contemplating joining in the boycott in his or her district? Have those plants contributed to congressional campaigns? Are there Canadian-owned businesses in that district who might be offering support to the member?

GoCCART knows and so, now, do staffers from Canadian Ambassador Michael Wilson to representatives in 19 consulates and trade offices from Anchorage to Boston.

The software has been credited with giving the Canadian side a huge boost in opening the border to beef exports because advocates were able to go to legislators and identify meat processing plants in their district where local job losses could be expected if the ban was continued.

The Humane Society says since it began its ProtectSeals boycott in March 2005, Canadian exports of sea crabs to the U.S. have declined by $353.6 million (U.S.), or 36 per cent.

Although it does not claim that plunge is totally attributable to the boycott – Canada says factors such as market tastes, currency fluctuations and transport costs are bigger – it says the dip in exports are more pronounced than exports to other countries without the boycott.

Embassy officials have described the counteroffensive as "Politics 101,'' and it's really an homage to the famous adage from one-time House speaker Tip O'Neill, who believed all politics was local.

"It's all about perception,'' said embassy spokesperson Bernard Etzinger. "We can say, `you're being asked to do this – have you looked at it this way?'"

The pilot project began in January 2005, but it has been fully functional in the past six to eight months. In a funding request from the embassy to the department of foreign affairs, the Washington office describes the "wow factor'' in the level of information obtained, "because we show them local knowledge, and that we care about the same thing they do.''

The documents were obtained under Freedom of Information legislation by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin.

The software, developed by iMapData Corp. of Washington, D.C., has also been used during the softwood lumber negotiations, to try to explode myths about Canadian social, security and environmental policies, and even on the Canadian push for a more robust international presence in Darfur, Sudan. But it is difficult to determine whether it is working on the seafood boycott, which is approaching its second anniversary.

Rebecca Aldworth, the U.S. Humane Society representative in Canada, said she has never dealt with a fish processing plant or restaurant that said it would not join the boycott of Canadian seafood because of the representation of the Canadian government – or a U.S. representative who may have been lobbied by Canada.

"We're not getting pushed back. I'm not saying this is not happening, but it has never come to our attention,'' she said. "The greatest success of the Canadian government is its misrepresentation of the effect of the boycott. That misinformation is irresponsible and reprehensible.''

Etzinger said Canadian consular officials throughout the U.S. are using GoCCART data to build awareness on the boycott.

"Our consulates in the U.S. are meeting with industry to take advantage of opportunities to correct myths and misperceptions on the seal hunt,'' he said. "We are using GoCCART to build a database of seafood processing facilities and mapping those out by city, state, and congressional district. We will continue to assess the impact that the boycott has on the seafood sector.'



Canada backs seal hunt despite market concerns

Updated Sat. Feb. 24 2007 2:57 PM ET

Canadian Press

MONCTON, N.B. -- Federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn says Canada will push back against negative messages about the annual East Coast seal hunt, but it will not back down.

Some processors attending a New Brunswick fisheries meeting on Saturday said they are worried they may lose customers because of the controversy and protest surrounding the seal hunt.

Hearn said the Canadian government is working hard to counter anti-sealing campaigns, with the message that the seal hunt is humane and sustainable.

"We have to make sure that people who ask questions about the hunt are aware of the truth and not what they see from some group still going around showing 20-year-old video of sealers clubbing whitecoats," Hearn told reporters during a break in the two-day fisheries summit in Moncton, N.B.

"Some of these people say the herd is disappearing. When we had the large northern cod stocks some years ago we only had two million seals. We have one per cent of those cod stocks today and we have six million seals.''

[Harpseals.org Note: Despite the official DFO position having changed in recent years to stop scapegoating the seals for the collapse of the cod population -- known by all fisheries scientists to be the result of DFO mismanagement--Loyola Hearn continues to blame the seals and spread lies regarding populations of seals and cod.]

But some people in the Atlantic fishing industry are worried Canada may be losing the public relations battle.

Crab processor Paul Boudreau of Tracadie, N.B., said in the last four or five weeks processors have received inquiries from customers asking for guarantees that they have nothing to do with the annual seal hunt.

"In the past two weeks, I received two different inquiries and I had to write letters to these customers saying that, no, our company, McGraw Sea Food, is not involved in the hunt,'' Boudreau said.

"This is a serious problem from a Canadian point of view because Newfoundland and Labrador companies are involved. This is coming from the market, so we don't really know what the final result will be.''

Opponents of the seal hunt in the United States have mounted boycotts against Canadian seafood in restaurants across the country. As well, they are continuing their efforts to encourage countries to close their doors to seal products.

The European Union is being pressured to ban the products, but has decided to first conduct an in-depth study of the seal hunt to establish whether it is humane or not.

The British government said recently it will press its neighbours in the European Union for a total ban on the import of seal products.

Hearn said Canada is joining with other sealing countries, including Russia and Norway, to promote the hunt and seal products.

"So collectively we're doing push back,'' he said.

"We are getting out the information and we are encouraging people to come and see for themselves and then make up their minds.''

However, people who do want to see the hunt for themselves may have a more difficult time this year.

Hearn said he will decide soon whether to stiffen regulations for hunt observers, possibly by increasing the exclusion zone around sealers from 10 to 20 metres.

That wider zone will make it much more difficult for observers to see what hunters are doing on the ice.

Hearn said he will announce the quota for this year's hunt within the next few days. The hunt is expected to begin by late March.

Last year's quota was about 335,000 seals.

"There are concerns that we may be losing some of the seals," Hearn said, pointing to last year's poor ice conditions.

"If that's the case, we'll adjust the quota this year. If not, we're OK where we are.''

More than 6,000 Atlantic Canadians -- most of them from Hearn's home province of Newfoundland and Labrador -- were actively involved in the hunt last year.




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