For a time, many of us had hope that the 2015 commercial seal slaughter might not happen.
Rumour had it that seal processors were unable to find markets and might not be in a position to buy baby seal skins this spring. But just days before the sealing season was set to open, the Newfoundland government announced a massive $2-million bailout for two seal processors: Carino Processing Ltd. and PhocaLux International.
The financing is earmarked for the purchase of seal products and brings the total government financing made available to seal processors in recent years to $9 million.
In an April 7th news release, Vaughn Granter, Newfoundland's Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, called the financing a "sound investment." He went on to say, "PhocaLux International's entry into the seal processing sector is a testament to the commercial opportunities that exist."
Yet in an interview with the CBC's Fisheries Broadcast on April 13th, PhocaLux International CEO Bernie Halloran admitted that rival company Carino Processing Ltd. is "sitting on some inventory." In other words, Carino is yet again stockpiling baby seal furs. In the same interview, Halloran admitted that, "the markets (for seal products) aren't really great around the world right now" and that, "it's probably not a really great time to get in the industry."
On April 14th, Carino CEO Dion Dakins announced the company had decided to refuse the government financing and will not purchase seal skins this year, citing a lack of demand.
It is fast becoming apparent that the Newfoundland government "investment" is simply a make-work project. More than 35 nations have already prohibited their trade in the primary products of Canada's commercial seal slaughter and there is no future in commercial sealing.
Halloran's attempts to position China as a viable alternative market for seal products are laughable. Despite more than three decades of taxpayer-funded promotion of Canadian seal products in China, the Chinese market has never materialized. Just last year, Canadian Fisheries Minister Gail Shea admitted publicly that a proposed deal to export seal meat to China had been blocked by the Chinese government after hearing the concerns of local animal welfare groups.
Make no mistake, the latest Newfoundland government financing to the sealing sector is good money after bad. Encouraging fishermen to make economic decisions based on markets that will never materialize serves only the executives of the seal processors.
It is time the Canadian and provincial governments put their support behind a fair sealing industry buyout. This plan would allow Canada to move beyond commercial sealing in a graceful way: sealers would receive immediate compensation for retiring their licenses, while economic alternatives would be developed in the communities involved. Notably, this plan already has broad support in the Canadian public and sealing community.
Atlantic Canada's coastal communities deserve a real "sound investment," not a painfully transparent and cynical political gesture that tarnishes the international reputation of the region.
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