Ottawa, ON - Mariners along the east coast of Canada are saying the ice is the poorest they've seen in many years, caused by a warmer-than-normal winter. But despite the fact that hunters may not be able to access the seals this year, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has increased the quota for Harp, Grey and Hooded seals. In a press release
, Minister Gail Shea said
“Our government recognizes the importance of the sealing industry to the people and the economies of Canadian coastal communities. Ongoing efforts are made to ensure our management decisions include the perspective of our scientists, as well as the input of Canadians in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and the North who work and depend on the industry for their livelihood.”
Shea also lifted the ban on hunting seals for personal use, allowing hunters to take a maximum of six seals each.
Sheryl Fink, Senior Researcher with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, criticized the decision to increase the seal quota, saying
"The Canadian government looks absurd calling for 330,000 seals to be slaughtered when there may not even be that many pups left alive."
Noting the lack of ice would negatively impact the seals, Fink added
"Attempting to reach such a TAC will undoubtedly be dangerous, expensive, and present increased animal welfare concerns. Today's announcement demonstrates just how out of touch with reality our seal meat canape-nibbling politicians truly are."
Fink was referring to the fact that Parliament began offering seal meat on its menu
Even if the sea ice was ideal for the hunt, there is uncertainty as to what markets exist for seal products this year. The Executive Director of the Canadian Sealers' Association, Frank Pinhorn told CBC News
"We're hoping for the best but up until now we have no indication if anyone is buying and what kind of price they are willing to pay."
Europe banned commercial Canadian seal products last year on the grounds that the hunt is cruel and inhumane. In response, Canada has been wooing China, hoping to fill the market void. Russia
had been a big market for Canadian seal products, but the recession meant less seal products were sold to Russia last year.
The lack of ice has already caused many seals to give birth to their pups on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, as well as along Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula. Mike Hammill, a Marine Mammal Specialist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans told press
he anticipated an increase in the death rate of seal pups this year, but said he didn't think there would be an impact on Eastern Canada seal populations. The ice is the lowest it has been in 50 or more years, and it is likely that there will be no hunt
in some areas. Normally 15% of pups do not survive after birth.
Nova Scotia seal hunters
found a buyer for their Grey seal furs, which were to be hunted from Hay Island, a protected island. Hunters were excited because their buyer was going to pay them more for the furs than they had gotten last year. However, the deal relied on the N.S. Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture assisting, and when the government backed out, the deal fell apart. A spokeswoman from the Humane Society International/Canada, Rebecca Aldworth, in Cape Breton to document the hunt, expressed
pleasure that the hunt was cancelled.
“My first reaction is just tremendous relief that the pups we saw on Hay Island will actually have a chance to survive this year. It's a very bittersweet thing to go out to such an incredibly beautiful place and see such amazing wild animals and to know exactly what is pending for them, what these sealers will do.”
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans allows observers to watch the hunt "from a safe distance."
Many anti-sealing groups are cheering the warm weather because it means less seals will be killed by hunters. It is not known how many seals
will die due to the weather, but the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is not concerned because the seal population is triple what it was in 1970.
People wanting to assist
the stranded seal pups are advised to leave them alone and let them die. It is illegal to touch a seal without a permit. Experts caution the public that diseases can be transferred from humans to seals, and expressed concern that well-intentioned people might pass on diseases to the seals which might then spread to other marine mammarls, such as whales.