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Changes in Seal Hunt Regulations


 

Don't ban hakapik, say sealers and activists
Outlawing tool would make hunt more dangerous, increase animal suffering

Phil Couvrette, Canwest News Service Published: Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sealer Approaches Seal
A seal hunter carrying a hakapik approaches a seal. The premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut are urging for a ban of the tool. Paul Darrow/Reuters

Calls for banning the hakapik from the seal hunt have accomplished something unexpected: they've made both sealers and activists agree on something -- that a ban isn't a good idea.

Sealers say removing the traditional tool, consisting of a long stick tipped with sharp hooks, could make the hunt less safe, while animal rights protesters say it would only prolong the suffering of dying seals and will do nothing to improve the image of the hunt.

On Tuesday the premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut called for the immediate ban of the pick, which is often used by protesters to portray the annual hunt as inhumane.

Sealers say they understand the government is sensitive about the image of the seal hunt, as Europe ponders a possible ban on seal products, but say banning the hakapik could make the hunt more dangerous.

"The hakapik is a device they use for manoeuvering on the ice and dispatching seals where necessary," said Frank Pinhorn of the Canadian Sealers Association. "So they use the hakapik out on the ice for a safety device to help. . . If you're going to take that away what would sealers use in [its] place?"

It could not only impact their safety but would make it hard to follow regulations put in place by veterinarians to kill seals, which he says stress, "crushing the hemisphere of the skull" to bleed them out.

Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society of the United States says removing the hakapik would increase the suffering of seals because seals shot during the hunt are often just wounded by the first bullet.

If the hakapik is removed from the commercial seal hunt sealers will have to cut open live conscious animals, which she stressed is not only "an extremely cruel act" but a violation of regulations.

"The fact [the premiers are] willing to increase the suffering of seals to appease European decision-makers is an extremely disappointing thing," she said.

Ms. Aldworth says the ban would do nothing to improve the image of the seal hunt.

"Some of the worst examples of cruelty that I've documented out at the commercial seal hunt involve those seals that are shot and wounded and left bleeding on the ice floes. . . it continues for several minutes until the sealers are able to reach the seals to finish them off."



 

Seal hunt to start Friday with new rules in place

Updated Wed. Mar. 26 2008 7:59 AM ET

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- The annual seal hunt is due to get underway Friday off the East Coast with new regulations in place, aimed at making the controversial kill more humane.

Adult Harp Seal
A harp seal sits on an ice pan in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. (CP / Jonathan Hayward)

Phil Jenkins, a spokesman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Ottawa, says the new rules require hunters to sever the arteries under a seal's flippers, thereby ensuring seals are dead before they are skinned. He says, "it's really going an extra distance to make sure that it's humane as it can be."

Nevertheless, animal rights groups say they remain opposed the hunt.

As Rebecca Aldworth, director of Canadian wildlife issues for the Humane Society of the United States puts it: "They've added bleeding to the killing process. This won't change anything."

This year's total allowable catch has been set at 275,000 seals, up from 270,000 last year. The total allowable catch was 335,000 two years ago, but poor ice conditions led to the change last year.

Seventy per cent of the seals will be killed in an area off Newfoundland's north coast known as the Front, while 30 per cent will be taken in the Gulf of St. Lawrence - the first stage of the hunt.

"People around the world are shocked to know that Canada, which is perceived as one of the most progressive nations in the world, allows this outdated, archaic slaughter to continue," Aldworth said.

The United States has banned Canadian seal products since 1972. The Netherlands and Belgium also ban seal products. The European Union is considering a ban on all seal products, having outlawed the sale of the white pelts of baby seals in 1983.

Registered hunters in Canada are now not allowed to kill seal pups that haven't molted their downy white fur, typically when 10 to 21 days old.

Animal rights groups say the seal hunt, the largest marine mammal hunt in the world, is cruel, difficult to monitor, ravages the seal population and doesn't provide a lot of money for sealers.

Sealers and the Fisheries Department defend the hunt as sustainable, humane and well-managed, and say it provides supplemental income for isolated fishing communities that have been hurt by the decline in cod stocks.

Fishermen sell seal pelts mostly for the fashion industry in Norway, Russia and China, as well as blubber for oil, earning about $78 for each seal. The 2006 take of some 335,000 seals brought in about $25 million.

The department estimated the total harp seal population to be 5.9 million in 2004, the last time it conducted a survey. The government says there were about 1.8 million seals in the 1970s, and the population rebounded after Canada started managing the hunts.


 

 

 

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