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Spring 2008 - Act•ionLine

by Dave Shishkoff, Friends of Animals Canadian Correspondent | Spring 2008

Getting Canada Past Its Seal Killing Days

Getting Canada Past Its Seal Killing Days

This has gotta stop. Seals shot and clubbed. Large animal-protection groups making an annual springtime event of flying helicopters to film the violence, staging scuffles with Newfoundlanders for the media, publishing various flyers and e-mails, sending celebrities to the ice floes, building their membership ranks as they go.

Canada ’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans show that in a strong market year (such as 2006) the seal kill is worth around $30 million. (To put that into perspective, two of the largest animal-protection groups heavily invested in the blood-soaked spectacle boast annual budgets of over $120 million each.) It should be possible to ensure local employees of the seal-killing business have other ways to sustain themselves. This is an issue of economics, and it has an economic solution.

As a Canadian, I’m speaking directly with the people of Newfoundland this year, working to find solutions that will work for the people themselves, rather than simply telling them they’re wrong. Doubtless they’re tired of the attacks, and they’d like to find employment that is less of a risk to their lives, offering a long-term and reliable income that doesn’t disadvantage the individual. Currently, many are leaving Newfoundland for the oil sands of Alberta, which promise more lucrative earnings.

I’ve carefully watched campaigns surrounding the seal kill for ten years, and have seen some pretty misguided ideas. One of the worst is the Canadian seafood boycott promoted by Whole Foods Market and most animal-protection groups, which suggests that buying fish from non-Canadian waters will somehow save the seals. Not only does this condone the depletion of other marine environments of sea life; it also makes no economic sense. There is some flexibility in the seal-killing ceilings, and more seal pelts may well be sold just to make up for any losses on the fish-selling side.

So we need a fundamental transformation in the economy. This won’t be easy, but it has to begin -- perhaps in the form of a government buy-back of kill permits. This was done with cod licensing when cod populations nearly vanished. The cod have yet to recover, despite a 15 year moratorium. Although we don’t want to wait until the seals are disappearing to stop killing them, they do in fact face threats: climate change has diminished the ice floes seals need to reproduce, and this trend is likely to continue into 2008 and beyond.

Alternative economies do exist. The eco-tourism sector in Newfoundland is bustling. Yet when I phoned more than a dozen eco-tour companies in Newfoundland and the tourism bureau, I found no eco-tours to see these seals. Of course, they are in an area of dangerous ice, but it’s possible that the government’s effort to prevent protestors from witnessing the killing -- and the killing itself -- has also kept tour companies away.

Through meetings with people in Newfoundland, we’ll gain the insight that will enable solutions. People employed in the annual commercial kill are normally not there because they wish to be, but because they feel they have to be. As one Newfoundland resident told me in a phone interview, “many would love never to go again.” They deserve better, and a fair economy should be demanded from their government. Seems the pieces are all there, but require some assembly.

The rest of Canada needs to step up as well and shoulder the responsibility for this disgraceful mass slaughter for fur and novelty nutrition products. If we act collectively, and stop polarizing this issue, but instead treat the matter of creating and alternative economy with the seriousness it deserves, both the seals and people of Newfoundland stand to gain.

Dave Shishkoff is visiting Newfoundland for an open meeting with residents. Please visit the Friends of Animals website for updates.

Dave Shishkoff, Friends of Animals Canadian Correspondent

Act•ionLine Spring 2008

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