We should be sealing the fate of an inhumane ritual
Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun
March 07, 2006

Federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn quipped last week that Sir Paul McCartney, if he thinks he can halt Canada's seal hunt, will be travelling a long and winding road -- remember that Beatles song?

Hearn, a politician I've come to admire through years of interviewing, might reconsider his smart-assed comment if he viewed some Internet footage on the U.S. Humane Society's website. The video shows clearly why the hunt is nothing but bad news and isn't worth perpetuating.

(Go to www.hsus.org/ follow the McCartney links to either the Video "Bearing Witness..." or "Rebecca Aldworth's Journal...")

Seals that have been clubbed are shown writhing in their blood, waiting to die. Their eyes are open. Every arduous movement of their bodies signals mortal pain. These aren't involuntary post mortem twitches but sentient mammals in agony, awaiting death's release.

This is the fundamental problem with the seal hunt. It's an exercise in mayhem on ice floes.

It clearly isn't possible to station a fisheries officer on every ice pan to ensure sealing regulations are respected.

Sealers don't execute quick kills and methodically collect the booty. They often leave bodies behind, and when you're killing a moving herd on an undulating chunk of ice in brutal weather, you cannot expect any hunter to be systematic or particular about the way he practises his vocation.

As someone who reported in Newfoundland for years, I've in fact experienced pack ice conditions in winter. I know whereof I speak.

Sure, let's have a seal hunt -- after all, we kill and butcher all manner of animals; how hypocritical would it be to say we should kill chickens and cows but not seals, because they're cuter. But in the name of all that is right and decent, let's have that seal hunt only if we can do it humanely.

And we cannot. We prove that in spades year after bloody year. As a past defender of the hunt, I've had to conclude that the hunt's conditions and locations make quick, humane kills impossible.

McCartney may be another in a long lineup of know-it-all rich celebs who spend a day at the front and pronounce from on high (in fact, I found his analysis both respectful and thoughtful). But that doesn't, in and of itself, make him wrong.

This issue goes to a principle. Do we as a society insist on harvesting animals humanely? It's up to each individual to decide. But we must bear witness before deciding, so I urge everyone to view the internet clips.

Two other points to consider once you've decided whether the hunt is humane: (1) Seals are killed primarily for fur, not meat. (2) While the white-coated seal pups aren't killed, they stop being pups and are open to kills after 12 days of life. Twelve days of life.

While this is our business, not McCartney's nor the world's, it's also our welfare at stake in this fight.

Because the fuss over the hunt has escalated year by year, it has started taking a toll on Canada's reputation globally and on its economy.

The annual landed value of seals is $16.5 million, providing small but significant benefit to one per cent of Newfoundlanders. It's not known how much Fisheries and Oceans spends regulating the hunt and cultivating markets.

What is known is that Ottawa spends $78 million by way of a Canadian Tourism Commission to rosy up our reputation for tourists. (Foreign tourists spent $18 billion here in 2004.) Better to chop the commission's budget and hand cash to the sealers.

Animal-rights groups are organizing a Canadian seafood boycott that's escalating. They maintain the boycott -- launched in March of 2005 -- has already cost Newfoundland $156 million in lost snow crab sales.

Some 400 restaurants and companies, mainly in the U.S., have signed on to the boycott so far. The groups currently are putting pressure on Red Lobster, with 670 restaurants, to stop buying Canada's seafood.

If the seal hunt were humane, Canadians should be telling these groups where to go stuff it. But many who view the video footage will be disturbed.

At this point Canadians need to begin pondering whether we're acting out of little more than bravado and defiance.

byaffe@png.canwest.com
C The Vancouver Sun 2006