baby seal

The issue of the Canadian seal hunt is a controversial one. It is a battle of animal rights versus First Nations rights, at least for the arctic seal hunt.

In 2009, the European Union banned the import of seal products. The legislation was one of the most non-partisan bills to pass through the European Parliament. Believing the issue to be massively popular amongst EU citizens ahead of the June chamber elections, some 550 deputies voted in favour of the ban, with just 49 opposed. In the wake of the ban, prices for sea pelts, the mainstay of Inuit trade, collapsed. Though the European legislation offered a partial exemption for the Inuit hunt, the details of the exemption are not clear, and it was developed without the input, or support, of Canada’s Inuit.

There are at least 8 million harp seals in the world, including several million in the Canadian high Arctic. The harp seal has never been an endangered species. Though the total Canadian seal hunt is authorized to take 275,000 seals a year, only about 3% of the catch has been taken by Inuit in the north. Most of that hunt is concentrated around the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

Baby Seal Clubbed

The Saint Lawrence hunt is the one that most people are familiar with, with the images of blood-smeared ice floes and the iconic images of the baby whitecoats, still used in almost all campaigns against the seal hunt, even though whitecoat hunting has been banned since 1987. The Saint Lawrence hunt is easy for media to access, and it’s the largest hunt, so it forms the basis of how people think of the hunt.

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The Inuit hunt is different. It is still largely done in the traditional way. Though the seal hunt is important for traditional subsistence living, it has also become important in the modern world as a source of income for the Inuit people. For many communities, the only source of money is to be gleaned from hunting, in particular seal hunting. The European trade formed a large part of their economy, though the Canadian government is now pursuing Asian markets in the wake of the collapse of the European one. Without the economic benefits from the seal trade, many Inuit would have to give up their traditional lifestyle, and abandon the north for other areas in order to survive.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) is the national voice of 55,000 Inuit living in 53 communities across northern Canada. On the occasion of the filing of Inuit lawsuit against the EU, Mary Simon, President of ITK, said:

“Inuit have been hunting seals and sustaining themselves for food, clothing, and trade for many generations. No objective and fair minded person can conclude that seals are under genuine conservation threat or that Inuit hunting activities are less humane than those practiced by hunting communities all over the world, including hunters in Europe. It is bitterly ironic that the EU, which seems entirely at home with promoting massive levels of agri-business and the raising and slaughtering of animals in highly industrialized conditions, seeks to preach some kind of selective elevated morality to Inuit. At best this is cultural bias, although it could be described in even harsher terms. It should also be more than a little disturbing to all the citizens of the EU that, despite advance warning by their own lawyers, its EU lawmakers registered no inhibitions about adopting laws that are legally defective.”

The case continues to wind its way through European courts. At the same time, Canada has filed a World Trade Organization challenge of the European ban. The Inuit are hopeful that the ban will be overturned, and they can continue their traditional way of life.

Colin Dunn was born and raised in Northern Alberta. Growing up in the boreal forest gave him an appreciation for nature, an appreciation that was enhanced by the works of his artist mother, Svala Dunn, who captured the landscapes and wildlife of the north in her oils and watercolors. He holds a Degree in Geography from the University of Alberta, with a concentration in Urban Studies. He has since found career in information technology, but still pursues his first interests in geography and the environment. He lives and works in southern Vancouver Island, with his wife and three children.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Take this site down and let the people (Inuit or otherwise) speak for themselves.
    And take down the picture of the white coat, they have not been part of the hunt for 25 years! It has been illegal to kill one since the 1980’s!
    As for the club, only about 4% of seals are killed that way, and it is deemed humane by veterinarians in any case. A real hunter of seals would tell you that it ensures the seal is killed quickly (humanely) and that 100% of seals are retrieved this way, with no chance of maiming an animal.
    Get educated. Go to SealsandSealing.net, or to the FAQ section of the Fisheries and oceans website.
    Thank you.

  2. I agree with Elizabeth, far to influenced by animal rights propaganda, did not do his homework and research his facts.

    “The Inuit hunt is different. It is still largely done in the traditional way.”

    The Inuit first traded seal pelts for firearms with Whalers 200 years ago. They shoot seals with rifles like every one else doe’s. I doubt if any one has sat in a kayak and harpooned a seal for many many years, where did that rubbish come from?

    “The Saint Lawrence hunt is easy for media to access, and it’s the largest hunt, so it forms the basis of how people think of the hunt”.

    The St Lawrence hunt has never been the largest hunt. The area of frozen sea off the coast of Labrador known as the “Front” is where the majority of seals are shot, and always has been. You are right that the press do not go there, too remote and a dangerous place to be.

    “European legislation offered a partial exemption for the Inuit hunt, the details of the exemption are not clear, and it was developed without the input, or support, of Canada’s Inuit”.

    This is true. The European Parliament is bound by its constitution the “Frame Work Laws”. To honour all of its treaties. It has to abide by a United Nations treaty protecting the rights of indigenous people like the Inuit.

    Diana Wallis the Member of the European Parliament who chaired the committee that drafted the bill wrote to me:

    There is a derogation for seal products that are the by-products of hunts that are carried out for marine resource management purposes and which are placed on the market on a non-profit basis. In theory, this could include seal products from a number of countries, including Greenland.

    However, the implementing Regulation explains that these should be placed on the market in a non-systemic way, so it is unlikely that the Greater Greenland Company would be able to take advantage of this derogation.

    The Greater Greenland Company is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Greenland Government. It markets the Seal Products for all of the Greenland Inuit. Therefore in effect the EU has banned the trade in Seal Products for the Inuit by what are known as artificial barriers to trade.

    The Bill to ban the trade in Seal Products was taken without a vote. The recitals the paragraphs in the act which guide MEP’s before voting, contain easily provable false hoods, emotive language, and facts that are simply unknown. Public opinion in Europe is judged by polls that are known as Euro Barometers, there has never been a Euro barometer on seal hunting, only a massive campaign by animal rights. Talk to ordinary people explain the facts correctly and only about one in ten will support the ban on seal products.

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