Canadian Seal Hunt Quickly Crashing

Posted on: Friday, 19 June 2009, 06:50 CDT

According to Canadian officials, the country’s annual seal hunt — the largest in the world — has drawn to a close with hunters fulfilling only about a quarter of the maximum quota allowed by the government.

Although the government-monitored event permits the commercial killing of more than a quarter of a million seals per year, officials have reported that fishermen in the easternmost province of Newfoundland and Labrador only brought in approximately 70,000 animals at the close of this year’s season.

Hunters say that falling prices for the seal pelts on the world markets have made the activity only marginally profitable at best. Currently, the furs are fetching a meager $12 dollars apiece — less than half of what they were worth last year and a mere fraction of their $100 peak just a few years ago.

In recent years, public opinion has turned sharply against the practice, aided largely by rigorous campaigning efforts by numerous conservation and animal rights groups such as The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the Animal Liberation Front.

The European Parliament recently responded to public disdain by overwhelmingly approving the European Seal Bill by a margin of 550 to 49 votes. The new law, passed on May 6, bans the import of all seal products into Europe and almost guarantees a further crash in the prices of seal pelts.

As a formality, the EU ban still requires the official approval from the governments of its respective member states. However, the almost universally-supported legislation is expected to pass without a snag and will likely go into effect before the start of the next seal hunting season in the fall.

Not all of the seal hunters’ woes however can be attributed to the public’s moral qualms with the practice. Russia, previously one the biggest markets for seal products, is currently suffering from an ailing economy and an increasingly devalued currency. China too, though already showing signs of economic recovery, is another major customer who has been forced to curb spending in the wake of the global recession.

A number of Canadian fishermen believe that they may be witnessing the twilight years of the centuries-old practice.

As the tide of public opinion has turned against them, they understand that it’s nearly impossible to win such an emotionally-charged debate over the legitimacy of the practice.

Still, in recent years the annual hunt has been a vital source of income for fishing communities already struggling to cope with rapidly declining fish stocks.