The federal government is calling for proposals for the $5.7 million allotted to bolster the seal industry in Indigenous communities, a signal that attitudes around seal products may be changing.
"People have come to understand that it isn't what the animal rights activists are trying to portray out there — we do harvest our seals in a sustainable way," said fisheries minister and Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo.
"When I was in Brussels last month I wore my sealskin tie over there. I got lots of comments on it, and people saw the shoes, they wanted to order shoes."
Tootoo has made a habit of sporting sealskin ties and accessories wherever he goes.
On his recent visit to the White House, Tootoo even gifted the sealskin tie he was wearing to U.S. President Barack Obama, after he said he liked it.
Seal Day on the Hill
This year at Parliament Hill's annual Seal Day, a showcase of sealskin parkas and handicrafts, the federal government announced a call for proposals for a $5.7 million funding program to help Indigenous communities market and sell sealskin products to the world.
"It means a lot because we need the money," said Nunavut environment minister Johnny Mike.
Mike said the funds would go a long way in bolstering the sealing industry across the territory.
The money is from the Certification and Market Access Program for Seals (CMAPS), a five-year program that sets up evaluation and tracking systems to ensure seal products harvested by Indigenous communities can be sold in the European Union.
The program also supports Indigenous seal products, businesses, and access to new markets for the commercial seal industry.
Reviving the commercial market for sealskin products has been a priority for Nunavut since anti-sealing campaigns and the European Union's ban on seal products in 2009 caused pelt prices to plummet.
Last year, the Government of Nunavut negotiated an exemption from the EU ban, which allows the import of seal products certified as harvested by Indigenous peoples.
Nunavut's environment minister says all these changes mean a difference in this year's Seal Day in Ottawa.
"It's more advanced from last year," said Mike.
"We have a caucus now that is willing to work together to promote and protect our interest in sealing programs and also to further the education to the outside world and to the anti-sealing groups around the world."
'Attitudes are changing'
"I think attitudes are changing and they're changing significantly," said Labrador MP Yvonne Jones.
Jones said events such as Seal Day help inform other politicians in Canada about the cultural and economic significance of the seal industry in the North.
"We want them to understand it and we want them to respect it," said Jones.
"This has been a part of who we are for many, many generations in this country — we have a sustainable harvest and we have one of the most regulated industries in Canada."
Inuit designers and artists have been working for years to highlight the importance of sustainably produced seal products to the economy in the North.
"There are so many talented and creative Nunavut artists who work with sealskin and seal products to make beautiful parkas, kamiks, purses, jewelry and more," said Rowena House, director of the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association.
"The market is expanding. Now more than ever, there is a worldwide interest in Nunavut arts and crafts."
No one wants to buy seal fur. The Canadians are trying to find new markets, including China, but there is not much interest. There is almost no market for seal meat.
Spring is a dangerous time to be a harp seal in Canada. Every spring our neighbor to the north announces a quota for the annual seal hunt, resulting in the destruction of thousands of young seals.
At 2 weeks of age, baby seals become legal to hunt, as that is when their fur is the softest. These young seals are helpless. They are shot or clubbed to death before they even learn to swim. They have big dark eyes, and fluffy white fur, once prized for its beauty and softness.
But there is dwindling demand for seal fur. Seal products were banned in United States in 1972, in the European Union in 2009, and in 2011, Russian President Vladimir Putin stopped his nation's sealing and seal imports.
Worldwide, over 35 countries ban import of seal items. Clearly, most of the world is opposed to the seal hunt, and polls show 90 percent of Canadian citizens oppose it, too.
For years, many of us have been signing petitions to stop the seal hunt in Canada, and yet it persists. The Humane Society of the United States still calls it "the largest slaughter of marine animals on the planet."
No one wants to buy seal fur. The Canadians are trying to find new markets, including China, but there is not much interest. There is almost no market for seal meat, and so it goes to waste on the ice floes.
It is a cruel practice, and the images it evokes disgust many of us. It should probably just go away.
But the Canadian government keeps it alive it through subsidies to the sealing industry. According to the International Fund for Animals Welfare, "the Canadian government has thrown away over $50 million in tax dollars since 1996 in subsidies and trade junkets directed at the sealing industry."
It begs asking why governments get involved in failing industries? The sealers do not make much money, the fund reports. They are often fishermen who use the seal hunt to supplement their income by $5,000 to $8,000.
Plus, the seal hunt requires ships to support the 7-week season. About 10 icebreakers, helicopters and patrol planes accompany the sealers, a vestige of long-ago times when dozens of them were lost in the cold and ice. It is an economic drain on Canada.
Because so many have banned the consumption of seal fur, the government has been reduced to marketing campaigns, such as one in China in 2012, to promote seal fur as fashion as well as seal meat as a source of protein. Animal welfare groups in China and the West have teamed up to call for an end to Chinese imports of seal products.
End the aid
When any government subsidizes a losing industry, it ends up with too much of a losing industry. In this case, the seal pelts can languish in warehouses, waiting for a market. Government is protecting an old way of living. But that's not the way of progress. Progress is almost never subsidized by government. Rather it's fueled by innovation, creativity and human spirit.
If the Canadian government would end its subsidies, maybe other business will have a chance to succeed — businesses that are not so cruel and controversial.
If something is failing, the Canadian government is under no obligation to keep it going. Markets are closing. Canada is not only supporting a dying industry, it is not being a good steward of natural resources. Write to the Canadian consulate and tell them to stop this cruel and archaic event.
This is the opinion of Barbara Banaian, a professional pianist who lives in the St. Cloud area. Her column is published the first Friday of the month.
By Vanessa Lieberman
When Greenpeace was founded in 1971, the organization was against seal hunting and did whatever could be done to protect harp seals. However, Greenpeace has changed their stance, saying that sealskin products are sustainable within Inuit communities.
In an article titled “Greenpeace slides backwards down a slippery slope,” Ludmila Baars from Greenpeace stated, “We do not, never did and never will promote fur industry… Our position toward seal fur has not changed: the large-scale, unsustainable commercial seal hunt should end, but we respect the right of Arctic Indigenous Peoples to harvest seals.”
At a fashion show on October 22, 2015 in Greenland, Jon Burgwald, an Arctic campaigner with Greenpeace, told MSNBC reporter Tony Dokoupil that he thinks seal products can be sustainable.
“We need to move beyond the notion that all sealing and seal products are bad things…it’s actually sustainable. I think it’s good that we can start promoting the sustainable seal products. It’s a sustainable hunt,” Burgwald said.
Many individuals at Greenpeace share Burgwald’s view. They believe that since harp seal hunting has been proved sustainable up to this point, it will remain sustainable.
However, this shift in mindset could threaten the habitat and increase the production of seal products — both factors would have a damaging effect on seal populations. Despite views about sustainability, the seal hunt is brutal and inhumane.
“Regardless of commercial or other, I am opposed to it. Sustainable or not, I am opposed to it. Anyone who has seen the commercial seal hunt knows it is cruel and barbaric,” Rabbi Ed Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal views seal hunting in an ethical light, while others examine logistical facts.
“Is Greenpeace investing in research on these hunts, or are they using secondary data? Maybe Greenpeace should make rules for what is sustainable,” Professor of Environmental Science Elizabeth Forys said.
Harp seals need to be protected before their populations fall too low. Waiting until the last possible minute to protect them could have dire results.
“Commercial sealing needs to stop,” junior Samantha Malkus said.
Harp seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Act. However, if the Inuit people have a permit, they can kill harp seals.
“Is low level commercial sealing acceptable? There is a need to weigh costs and benefits,” Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Noelle Boucquey said.
Boucquey makes an interesting point, but one should keep in mind that low level commercial sealing could become more global. A sustainable seal hunt could be considered impossible. If demand for seal products raises even a little bit, their populations will suffer.
The two main reasons why the Inuit people hunt seals are for tradition and the need to make money so they can purchase other goods. It may be time to try change these and find new ways to make money.
There is a growing interest to observe wildlife in its natural habitats. Greenpeace could help the Inuit people create an infrastructure allowing tourists and researchers to come, study, and enjoy the harp seals. The funds collected from tourists and researchers could replace the funds that are now gathered from sealskin products.
If Greenpeace would consider options like this, it would send hope to these communities and animal lovers at the same time.
Along with hunting, the loss of habitat due to melting caps threatens seal populations as well.
Greenpeace needs to start looking at other approaches that would be sustainable to the Inuit communities and protect the marine wildlife at the same time.
A few years ago, I spent two days on the ice floes of Newfoundland watching baby seals and their mothers. Snow white, with big trusting eyes, the pups were the picture of innocence, and it was with growing horror I realized that many of these same creatures would later be clubbed, shot and dragged - some still conscious - over the ice floes when the annual commercial seal hunt took place a month later. Now the slaughter is set to begin again, despite lack of demand for seal fur, overwhelming global condemnation and diminishing economic rationale. I ask, what’s the point?
The annual Canadian commercial seal hunt is the largest slaughter of marine mammals on earth, claiming the lives of more than two million seals since 2002 alone. Yet, in recent years growing backlash has greatly reduced the export market. Thirty-five countries now ban some or all trade in commercial seal products, with markets closed in the United States, Mexico, the European Union and Russia. As a result, the hunt’s value has diminished, as has the number of Canadians engaging in the practice.
There are currently only a few hundred active sealers - down from an estimated 6,000 in 2006 - and in 2014 the total value of commercial seal products coming out of Canada was just $500,000. Yet, according to recently obtained government documents, the hunt is costing Canadians $2 million more than that in annual tax expenditures. This includes $1 million for icebreakers, $475,000 for helicopters and $375,000 in overtime for those monitoring the hunt. It does not take into account the millions more in marketing dollars and subsidies the Canadian and local governments devote to keeping the hunt going.
Canada regularly pays companies to buy up pelts, and the country spent an estimated $10 million fighting a losing battle against the E.U. ban on seal products. There’s also the incalculable damage to Canada’s reputation, along with potential economic losses from unrealized trade deals with partners opposed to the hunt.
It’s clear that supporting what may once have been a critical economic activity is simply no longer vital or viable. So why is the Canadian government propping up a dying industry? Simply put, political expediency - but caving to the demands of a few fisheries associations doesn’t do any good for the millions of taxpayers who unknowingly abet this cruel economic boondoggle. Surely those funds could be better used buttressing social service programs or the crucial search and rescue services that have been the targets of significant cutbacks over the years.It’s time for the government to encourage local communities to find sustainable new ways to derive economic value from their most iconic wildlife.
In his new book The Humane Economy, The Humane Society of the United States president and CEO Wayne Pacelle points out that industries that compromise animal welfare can cost society many times the revenue generated. In the 19th century, a number of coastal communities hunted whales. However as whaling ended, whale watching was developed, generating new and more lucrative income for these towns.
The same can happen here. A 2010 poll found that half of Newfoundland sealers actually support a plan that would buy back their licenses, compensate them for their losses and develop new economic alternatives in the communities involved. Humane Society International, which has a strong presence in Canada devoted in part to ending the slaughter, supports this plan. And, with major export markets closing and Canadian taxpayers growing tired of footing the bill, there is little alternative for the major stakeholders. To be certain, the opposition isn’t going anywhere.
The HSUS and HSI will continue to expose the cruelty of the commercial seal hunt for the world to see. Concerned chefs and food retailers will continue to avoid Canadian seafood as a means of pressuring the industry to stop the slaughter. Nations all around the world will continue to institute bans against the import of seal products. And the vast majority of Canadian people will continue to oppose the hunt, as they have done for many years.
Prime Minister Trudeau has an opportunity here to make history by doing as they, and many sealers, want by supporting a seal industry buyout. The world would applaud this action; it would restore Canada’s reputation as a nation that cares for its wildlife, and it would bring to an end a needless economic drain on taxpayers. If done right, it could also revitalize local communities through enhanced eco-tourism. Visitors will appreciate more opportunities to watch the seals at play - as I did, but without the terrible knowledge of what’s to come.
By: Charles C. Camosy
(RNS) Canadian seal hunting has been controversial for decades, but its cruel and inhumane violence has come under special scrutiny this week. This is not only because we are coming up on peak season for the killings of these creatures (usually mid-to-late March), but also because Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was at the White House, and he is facing considerable backlash for his support of the practice.
Public opinion has consistently opposed seal hunting and the European Union and United States have banned the import of seal fur to their countries.
The main defense of seal hunting is that it’s necessary for the financial stability of the indigenous populations who engage in the practice. But Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, has shown that the hunt is a huge economic loser.
The Canadian government is spending $2.5 million each year just to monitor the commercial seal hunt, which had an export value of only $500,000 in 2014. And that doesn’t take into account the many millions of subsidies and financing that the Canadian and provincial governments sink into product purchasing, development, processing, and marketing every year.
Pacelle has a new book coming out in April, “The Humane Economy,” in which he makes the broader point that protecting seals and other creatures is good for both human and animals. Indeed, he expertly demonstrates that industries that are cruel to animals cost society many times the revenues they generate.
I’ve tried to highlight this in my own work on animal ethics, focusing in particular on how factory farming billions of animals contributes to climate change, the creation of drug-resistant bacteria, economic inefficiency, worker injustice, and more. God’s creation is so tightly interconnected that treating one aspect of that creation with wanton cruelty and disregard comes back to bite humanity as well.
Pope Francis’ magisterial work of ecological theology, “Laudato Si’”could not have been more explicit about the interrelatedness of human and nonhuman. The pope insists the natural world “cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves” and it is no longer possible to separate how we treat human beings from how we treat the whole of God’s creation.
He insists we need “comprehensive solutions” that “demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”
Demonstrating deep resonances with the central argument of Pacelle’s book, Francis also suggests we need to develop an “economic ecology” that ties our treatment of God’s creation to our economic problems.
Groups like the Humane Society now have flourishing “Faith Outreach” programs that are building on the growing interest of religious traditions in helping to protect animals. This movement goes well beyond Roman Catholicism, with growing interest among several evangelical figures and churches. I’m part of the society’s “Faith Advisory Council” which includes not only many different kinds of Christians, but Muslim and Jewish figures as well.
As a professor of Christian ethics, I can tell you that the issue of animal protection is absolutely exploding onto the theological scene. We had our first meeting of the “Animal Ethics Interest Group” this past January at the annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics, and the energetic crowd was from all over the theological and political map.
There is a movement afoot.
Many pioneers in the animal protection movements find this puzzling. For decades now, many of them thought of religious figures and institutions as antagonists. Wasn’t the view that humans were made sacred in the image of God, and given dominion over animals, deeply problematic? Princeton’s Peter Singer argued for a direct and sustained frontal assault on the religious traditions that espouse the sanctity of life ethic.
But especially as religious traditions continue to mobilize their considerable resources in the service of animal protection, Singer and others have begun to see them as allies rather than enemies. An authentic understanding of the dominion God has given human beings over animals leads one to conclude that we are called to be stewards and protectors. An authentic understanding of the value of God’s creation leads one to conclude that, though there is a hierarchy of being (seals, though valuable, do not matter as much as human beings), all life is deeply interrelated.
When we are cruel to a fellow creature, we not only harm that creature, we also harm ourselves.
(Charles C. Camosy is associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University. Twitter: @CCamosy)
Feb. 10, 2016
The Rhode Island General Assembly is considering a bill to designate the harbor seal as the official state marine mammal (“Seal proposed as official marine mammal,” news, Jan. 15). House Bill 7111 was introduced last month by Representatives Samuel Azzinaro, Brian Patrick Kennedy, Joseph McNamara and Arthur Corvese, at the encouragement of the Ocean Community and North Kingstown Chambers of Commerce, Save the Bay, and the Roger Williams Park Zoo. The bill was slated for consideration by the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.
We strongly support this legislation, and encourage the House and Senate to enact it into law. This sort of publicity can only be a good thing for wildlife populations. Let’s build on this positive momentum and see if we are doing all that we can to protect Rhode Island’s iconic wildlife, such as harbor seals.
Harbor seals are one of only three dozen species of marine mammals that can occupy the marine waters of southern New England, including whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and the occasional wandering manatee. The manatee and six whale species, including humpback whales such as the ones that have been spotted around Narragansett Bay over the last month, are classified as endangered under federal law. Endangered species are much more in need of protection than seals.
Harbor seals, on the other hand, appear to be doing very well. Harbor seal populations in New England have grown substantially since passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972. Our harbor seals are actually animals that breed mostly in Maine and Canada, representing less than a tenth of that total population. They come south for the winter, arriving around October and departing in April. Why they don’t stay all summer is not known, but it may be because the water gets warm enough for sharks, which would like nothing better than to snack on a fat, newly weaned seal pup.
We need to know more about the status of harbor seals in Rhode Island at any given time, not least so that we can better recognize changes due to development, climate or other impacts. Were there more harbor seals around Narragansett Bay in the late 1990s than in the late 1960s? How about changes from 2000 to 2015?
The Rhode Island Natural Heritage program was jointly conducted by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Nature Conservancy to track rare species in the state. The Heritage database was the go-to source for all information about rare species of plants and animals. However, the Heritage program has not received adequate financial resources for many years, and the Heritage database has become sadly out of date.
For the past few years, the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, DEM, the Nature Conservancy and URI have been working collaboratively to make the Heritage database current. A small grant from the Conservation Stewardship Collaborative will allow a multi-year backlog of Heritage data to be entered this spring, but there are still no resources allocated for updating and managing the database on a continuous basis into the future.
We encourage the Rhode Island House and Senate to use the declaration of our new state marine mammal as an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to Rhode Island’s wildlife, both within the state and in the nearby ocean, by appropriating sufficient funding for DEM and its project partners to better monitor the plants and animals that make up our natural heritage.
Robert D. Kenney, a marine mammal ecologist who is retired from the oceanography research faculty at URI, is a board member and past president of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, an independent non-profit based in Kingston. David W. Gregg is the executive director of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey.
[Harpseals.org: The Inuit were given an exemption to the EU ban on seal product imports due to their claim that this ban adversely affected their traditional way of life, which includes subsistence hunting of seals. Read more about this controversial issue here.]
February 1, 2016
With a massive and ongoing campaign against seal hunting by various activist groups the seal-hunting industry in Canada had all but collapsed in the past several years.
Unfortunately it also took with it a much needed source of revenue and jobs for indigenous peoples in Canada who had always hunted seal for sustenance and clothing. There had been growing interest in products, primarily a variety of clothing made with seal fur to create items from boots and mittens, to vests, coats, purses and others.
After some effort, the European Union, which had banned seal products from being sold in their market, made a provision for allowance of indigenous seal products.
The EU requires that only seal products harvested by Indigenous people and certified by a recognized body are allowed to be sold in the EU.
However, there was no real certification process in Canada, and although Nunavut’s government was recognized as a certification authority by the EU, the market now was so weak, that even though indigenous products were allowed, there still was little market for them.
In 2015, the federal government in Canada announced a $5.7 million programme over five years called the Certification and Market Access Program for Seals (CMAPS)
The idea was to create a certification and tracking system so that seal products created by aboriginals in Canada can be sold to Europe.
In a press release today, Peter Taptuna, Premier of Nunavut was quoted saying, “The EU ban on the import of seal products continues to affect Nunavut sealskin prices. The establishment of CMAPS supports our continued efforts to promote sealing as a sustainable industry, and actively market this important product through the Inuit exemption. It is also an opportunity to strengthen international knowledge and break down barriers to understanding why the sealing economy is so important to our people.”
Today an agreement was signed by the federal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard and the Premier of Nunavut Territory signed the first agreement in that plan to hand over $150,000 in federal funds to the territory..
The Government of Nunavut will use the new funds to lead a number of projects in collaboration with the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association and others. These projects aim to increase the amount and market value of sealskin products, reinvigorate the industry overall, and bring awareness and opportunity to Inuit about accessing the EU and other markets.
Currently, the Nunavut Department of Environment is the only Canadian recognized body designated to certify that seals harvested in Nunavut meet the requirement of the EU Regulation.
In announcing the handover of funds, Minister Hunter Tootoo said, “The seal harvest is a traditional way of life for Canada’s Indigenous people, and it provides a key source of food, clothes and income for many Inuit families. This financial agreement will help Inuit families to create value-added seal products and it is a key way in which this Government is demonstrating its commitment to supporting northern economic development.”
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