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Posted by on Mar 11, 2010 in The Economy

Seal for Lunch?

I was delighted to hear that the Parliamentary dining room is now serving seal meat. The addition to the menu will provide an opportunity for politicians to show their support for hunters who are fighting an EU ban on seal products.

What is it about the seal hunt that provokes so much heated debate? I think it is simply the fact that the hunt is conducted out in the open for the whole world to see. Visually, the images are arresting- red blood splattered against white snow. Images of fluffy white baby seals with big soulful eyes. Seals with their faces turned upward, as if pleading with fishers not to whack them on the head. As well, international lobbying organizations like PETA, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Greenpeace have great success mobilizing protesters through social media tools like the Twitter and and blogs. They fly public icons like Brigitte Bardot and Paul McCartney to Newfoundland to pose with seal pups, despite the fact that seal pups have not been hunted for twenty years. And every spring, European animal rights groups splash Canadian embassies with red paint and boycott seal products.

On Canada’s east coast, more than 6,000 fishers are involved in the annual seal hunt. In Newfoundland and Labrador alone, at least 7 coastal communities derive between 15% and 35% of their total earned income from sealing. This percentage may appear like small change to some critics, but it’s a big deal for families living in remote regions with limited economic opportunities. Every part of the seal is used- for food, fuel, clothing and shelter. With more than 5.5 million harp seals just off Canada’s shores, it’s wrong to suggest that their population is at risk. This number is triple what it was in the 1970s. The Government of Canada closely monitors the hunt to ensure that it is conducted in a safe and humane manner. Quotas are set at levels that ensure the health and abundance of the seal herds.

Canada’s east coast seal hunt is a sustainable, well-monitored industry and an important source of income for coastal families. So, the next time you hear someone criticize the  hunt, take a close look at what their shoes are made of and what’s in their grocery cart. To me, sustainability wins over sentiment, hands down.

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