Nicholas dePencier Wright Headshot

Why are Taxpayers Subsidizing the Dying Seal Slaughter Industry?

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In the digital age, local issues have increasingly become global. The Canadian East Coast commercial seal slaughter -- the largest slaughter of marine mammals in the world -- is a case in point. Footage of live gaffing, injured seals escaping into the water to die slowly, and piles of baby seal carcasses left to rot on the ice have resulted in international condemnation and officials in global markets rejecting these products of cruelty.

And with recent bans on the trade in harp seal skins in Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, what little market remained for the Canadian sealing industry following the 2009 European Union prohibition on seal product trade has now been eliminated. Let's not forget that the United States, Mexico and others have also implemented similar bans, and despite millions in taxpayer dollars spent by the federal government, markets in China have failed to materialize.

With so many international markets closed, one of the largest Canadian seal processing companies, NuTan Furs Inc., announced it would stop processing seals and shift its operations to other products. Yet in an unbelievably irresponsible move, the government of Newfoundland announced on April 5 that it will provide $3.6 million to subsidize the foreign-owned Carino Processing Limited so that they will now add to the 400,000 seal furs already reportedly stockpiled in warehouses around the globe.

This additional subsidy is a fraction of the cost that taxpayers will be picking up this year to sustain the dying commercial seal slaughter. Additional taxpayer money is used for, among other things, Coast Guard support for the seal hunt including icebreaking services, grants to seal product processors and marketers, and costly international legal challenges to try to reverse seal product trade bans.

These government handouts will not be enough to hold back the other reason this slaughter will end. Climate change has caused a steady deterioration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off of the front of Newfoundland. Harp seals depend on sea ice for whelping, and according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, harp seal pup mortality in areas where ice does not form or breaks up too early can be as high as 100 per cent.

Climate change not only causes high mortality in harp seals. Ultimately, it will cause the sea ice -- and surviving seals on it -- to recede north, beyond the range of the commercial sealing industry.

The end of the commercial sealing industry is inevitable. It's time to take the politics out of the debate and redirect wasted taxpayer-supported subsidies to buy out the sealing licenses and to provide truly sustainable economic development programs to affected rural communities on the East Coast of Canada.

The economic and climate change realities are not lost on those actually doing the sealing. A 2010 poll revealed that half of Newfoundland sealers who expressed an opinion actually supported a sealing industry buyout. What is now needed is a sealing industry push to compel the political leadership at the provincial and federal levels to make it a reality.

Economic and environmental realities are aligning the interests of sealers and animal protection groups. Canada can move beyond commercial sealing, but only when our two sides stand together with a united message: The government must buy out sealing licenses and fund a transition to new and sustainable industries. When this happens, everybody on both sides will wonder why it took so long to come to such a sensible outcome.