Sat 18 Nov 2006
Culling of seals humane and viable, says Canada
CANADA's annual seal cull sees animals killed on an almost industrial scale, and attracts controversy to match.
This year's cull is estimated to have killed 354,000 of the animals, above the Canadian government's own prediction of 325,000.
The 2006 killing season was the third straight year where the death toll exceeded 300,000. More than a million seals have been killed since 2004. Some are shot, others are beaten with clubs or heavy spiked hakapiks.
Around 16,000 hunters, the majority of them professional cullers, are licensed to carry out the slaughter that has become peaceful Canada's biggest single international PR problem.
While those figures are generally agreed, almost every other aspect of Canada's annual seal cull is the subject of intense and heated dispute.
To the campaigners who want to stop it, it is an unjustifiable exercise in cruelty and greed. To the Canadian government, it is economically and ecologically necessary, fully justified by the needs of the country's fishermen and, indeed, the seals themselves.
Although Canada's economy has been booming in recent years, the growth has come in the west, where huge oil deposits have brought wealth to provinces like Alberta. But the country's north-eastern provinces, and especially Newfoundland and Labrador, have not shared in the bonanza.
That, the Canadian government says, makes the annual cull all the more important. This year's hunt was estimated to have brought in £8.5 million, from sales of both seal skins and the animals' blubbery meat.
A single "beater pelt" taken from a young harp seal can fetch up to £35 in a strong market.
While small compared to the vast riches earned by the oil industry in the country's west, the sums earned from the seal cull are said to be vital to Newfoundland's traditional fishing communities.
Like fishermen in Scotland and elsewhere, the Canadians are faced with falling fish stocks and therefore falling incomes.
While some fishermen still make the connection between the seal population and falling stocks, the Canadian government does not.
But it does argue that the seal population may be rising unsustainably. Canada says the harp seal population is now around five million animals, nearly the highest level ever recorded, and almost triple what it was in the 1970s.
Canadian officials also insist that the seal killing is conducted humanely by properly-trained hunters. To become a professional "sealer", an individual must serve as an apprentice under a licensed professional for two years.
The Canadian government describes the hunt as "sustainable, viable and humane" and Stephen Harper, the country's prime minister, says Canada is being subjected to an international propaganda campaign over the culling.
And whatever the merits of their case, those opposing the killing certainly do not lack high-profile support. Brigitte Bardot, the iconic French film star, is perhaps the longest-standing celebrity defender of Canada's seals. And in recent years, Sir Paul McCartney and his now-estranged wife Heather, have made trips to the ice floes to lend their support.
The lobbying effort against the cull is led by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which strongly disputes many of Canada's arguments, especially the assertion that the killing is humane.
Some seals are shot to immobilise them and only later killed with clubs. This is "inhumane ... and leads to considerable pain and distress", IFAW says.
According to the group's veterinary observers, eight in ten sealers do not check if a seal is dead before skinning it.
Animal groups also dismiss claims that the money the hunters earn is significant, claiming the revenue generated by sealing is negligible compared with that from fishing: it accounts for 0.5 per cent of the annual economic activity of Newfoundland and Labrador.
This article: http://news.scotsman.com/politics.cfm?id=1708742006
Last updated: 18-Nov-06 01:34 GMT