Let’s treat the activities of the International Animal Welfare groups as a “project” with socio-economic impacts that need to be assessed.
Currently the Fisheries Act is used to manage these impacts, with a licensing scheme for IFAW and other observers who wish to approach within 10 meters of the hunting activity. While that does something to help regulate observer behaviour (you can refuse a license to someone who intends to disrupt the hunt), it has been of limited effectiveness in reigning in the aggressive tactics of the International Animal Welfare Groups. Their primary objective is to disrupt the hunt regardless of what they might write in their observer application. This International group of bullies denigrates us to the world annually. They arrive annually , approach within meters of the hunting activity, and subject the sealers to photo-documentation scrutiny which is later edited, taken out of context, and used as evidence of the supposed cruelty of the hunt,
An ethics battle has waged on seals for decades, reaching a climax in 2009 with the success of the animal welfare / animal rights groups campaigning effort in Europe and the resulting restrictions / ban on the import of seal products to Europe. Together with US, Mexico, and elsewhere, markets have closed and the sealing industry has become marginalized.
Yet despite the doom and gloom there are bright spots. There is a National Seal Product Day endorsed by Parliament. Chefs are making waves with seal meat in Canada. Sealers have emerged from decades of scrutiny on their killing techniques with an internationally recognized humane killing process. It can be said that our Canadian humane hunting practices are the “gold standard”.
It is time to stop the exploitation. In decades past, there may have been some value in the scrutiny. These hunts in good years are taking hundreds of thousands of animals, the largest wild hunt on earth. So standards need to be high, and the world needs to be assured of the humaneness of the hunt. But whatever value there may have been in making sealers and the seal hunt a public spectacle is no longer worth the harm this negative attention causes.
Today’s hunting represents a small but critical activity for sealer / fish harvesters at a time of year when other marine resource activities are not available. In fact, most other marine resources are in a state of decline while seal populations are burgeoning. Communities are struggling to remain viable, tensions are high, and sealers have a right to take seals for food, clothing, and what little they can still make off the few pelts the buyers will accept. Despite this greatly reduced economic activity, animal rights activists continue endangering sealers with their tactics, “buzzing” them with their helicopters and cracking the ice about sealers’ feet with their steel hulled vessels. While they state they do this to get the best photos, they are really doing it to scare the seals off the ice, and to disrupt the hunt. It is completely irresponsible to harass men on the ice, or in small boats with high powered rifles, in such a fashion. The sea ice is an unforgiving environment and someone could get hurt.
Why use a piece of fisheries legislation to try and tackle a socio-economic problem. Instead, we need to realize that the IFAW triggers the new Impact Assessment Act. They are profiting in the tens of millions of dollars off of a federally managed resource. Why is there no expectation that some modest portion of this money be fed back into the coastal communities who rely of those marine resources? A group like the IFAW have close to 2 million members and have generated over 97 million USD annually. There are other international animal welfare groups, this is only one of them. There are approximately 500 thousand people in NL and about 11,000 registered sealers, plus a smaller number of Quebecers and Maritime sealers. The odds are greatly stacked and not in our favour.
Efforts by the IFAW to harass sealers should not continue to be legitimized by a federal license. It is an abhorrent affront to just about every Newfoundlander. The privilege the IFAW has enjoyed needs to be reviewed under the Impact Assessment Act and either discontinued or severely restricted while at the same time heavily monitized to channel funds back to the rural, coastal and northern communities they are killing.
Local craftsperson Clare Fowler moved back from Ontario to St. John’s in 2004 and worked for a decade before switching gears and following her passions for art and craft. She completed the Textile: Craft and Apparel Design program with College of the North Atlantic in 2016 and is now a full time crafts person and maker with an open studio at the Quidi Vidi Village Craft Plantation. Her body of work focuses on the use of seal fur and seal leather.