Canadian Seal Hunting: ban it or protect it?

by Lizbeth on November 10, 2017 - 6:43pm

Seal hunting in Canada dates back over hundreds of years, but only more recently in the mid-20th century has it become extremely controversial. In the National Geographic article ‘Demand For Seal Products Has Fallen – So Why Do Canadians Keep Hunting?’ the author looks at the past and current status of the Canadian sealing industry and its uncertain future.

The commercial seal industry is said to have been established in the early 1500s by European settlers, and had a strong start, with a high demand for seal products both in North America and Europe. Since then, the market for seal products has dramatically declined, largely due to intense anti-sealing campaigns from various global animal welfare groups, starting back in the 1960s. The pressure from anti-sealing groups has led over 35 governments, including Russia and members of the EU, to completely ban seal product imports, except for Inuit products. The article asks the question, “Why does Canada continue to support its sealing industry?”. The answer includes a few reasons. Some fishermen argue that in some areas, seal eat too much cod and are depleting the already low cod stocks, so they should be hunted to control the population. This has been contested by scientists, who say that cod is only a small part of seals’ diet, and that seals are not responsible for depleting cod stocks, rather overfishing is to blame. The government also justifies the hunting of seals by stating its cultural and economical importance, especially to sealers who live in Newfoundland and Labrador, a province that faces economic challenges.

Aside from what is mentioned in the article, there are many other aspects of seal hunting worth discussing. The article does not mention this, but some of the concern regarding seal hunting stems from the fact that seals live in the ocean, which is accessible by anyone who has the right vessel and equipment, and therefore they are considered a common pool resource. Common pool resources are subject to the tragedy of the commons because it is in the interest of those harvesting the resource to take as much as they can while it is available. In the case of seal hunting, the Canadian government has attempted to counter this problem by imposing an annual quota on the number of seals killed. Due to the current low demand for seal products, the number of seals hunted in 2016 was well below the allowed quota.

There are also the effects of the declining seal market on Inuit hunters and communities, who tend to be ignored in these conversations in the first place. This is an clear example of the impacts of Canada’s colonial history. Many Inuit communities still rely on seal hunting for food, but because they also live in the 21st century, they need to be able to sell some seal skins to make enough money to buy fuel and other necessities to keep hunting. I recently learned about this by watching the documentary Angry Inuk, which sheds light on the ways in which Inuit communities are affected by bans on seal products such as the one in the EU, regardless of exemptions for traditional Inuit products. Seeing how Inuit hunting is only briefly mentioned in this article, there clearly could be more effort to include Inuit hunters in the conversation regarding seal hunting, and the government could be doing more to consult with them on the issue. It would be interesting to see how a co-management approach could develop to manage seal hunting; one that would include Inuit hunters, commercial hunters on the coast of Newfoundland, and the Canadian government.

Reference

Actman, J. (April 5, 2017). Demand for seal products has fallen – so why do Canadians keep hunting? National Geographic. Retrieved from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/04/wildlife-watch-canada-harp-s...

Comments

I really found your blog post intriguing, as well as the article it is based on! I didn't know much about the seal hunting industry, and just reading your blog post gave me a lot of information. I also really liked how you simplified some of the statistics into easily understood and still meaningful explanations.
I agree with you that the article only slightly touches on the subject of Inuit people. You mentioned beginning a co-management approach including Inuit hunters, commercial hunters, and the Canadian government which I agree would be interesting. My only criticism/question is that there are different seal species in the areas you mentioned and different seal species for Inuit hunting and commercial practices. Do you think that they could all be addressed under one management act, or do you think it would be worth the extra work to create programs for different areas or species? Do you think it is more important to create a co-management program for the seals that are in excess to contorl their populations, or species with populations at risk more prevelant?

Thanks, for the feedback, these are some good questions. I am glad you brought up the different seal species because I think that is one aspect that adds to the complexity of managing seal hunting. I am not sure what the ideal co-management system would look like because there is still a lot I don't know, but I think it would make sense to create co-management programs for different areas because of the different species of seals and unique conditions in each area, as you mentioned. As far as I know from looking up different species of seals, there are only two species considered at risk, so it could be beneficial to have a program looking at these two species. Overall, I think priorities with these co-management systems should be to increase communication between Canadian seal hunters, including Inuit hunters, and the government, to come up with the best possible management practices.