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July 22, 2009

On the Possibility of a Namibian Sealing Buyout

Would help seals and sealers

Humane Society International

  • Herded Cape fur seals. Craig Matthews

Several years ago, Humane Society International proposed the idea of a sealing industry buyout as a way for the Canadian government to end Canada's commercial seal hunt. Such a program would involve the federal government's legislating an end to commercial sealing and then implementing a program to financially compensate sealers for lost income.

Buyouts: how and why?

Similar buyout programs have been repeatedly executed in Canada and internationally in the wake of closures of commercial fisheries and marine mammal hunts. In 1972, Canada passed a moratorium on commercial whaling and compensated whalers for their whaling licenses—and in the 1980s, The Humane Society of the United States helped negotiate a federal buyout of the U.S. Pribilof Islands sealing industry.

Because governments allocate seal quotas and sealing licenses, an industry buyout must have the express permission and cooperation of the responsible government. Moreover, national legislation ending commercial seal hunting is a crucial first step in a sealing industry buyout because, in absence of legislation, the responsible government could simply reallocate the unused quota to other sealers.

Globally, the sealing industry is in decline. In May 2009, HSI and our partner groups achieved a historic victory for seals when the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of an EU ban on seal product trade. As global markets for seal products close, and seal fur prices plummet, many sealers are now questioning their futures in this dying industry.

Facts on a rumored deal

In recent weeks, a possible offer from the only Namibian seal hunt concessionaire (sealing license holder) has emerged. The offer by Hatem Yavuz to exchange his concession for financial compensation from the private sector has achieved a great deal of publicity. However, in absence of agreement from the Namibian government, no such deal could ever work, and the Namibian government has not indicated it would be in support of such a plan. As Mr. Hatem noted to The Times (part of the Times Group of South Africa), "You cannot buy the quota, because that's owned by the state, and therefore buying me out is not going to stop seal harvesting."

Examining the options

HSI is actively investigating how a Namibian sealing industry buyout might occur, where the funding might come from, and whether a buyout would be accompanied by legislation to end commercial sealing. We are dealing directly with key stakeholders to determine what can be done to move forward in a constructive manner.

It is important for all stakeholders to understand that a buyout should not be a temporary measure that compensates one license holder for his temporary rights to quota. Rather, it should be a one-time, industry-wide buyout, paired with legislation that would end the slaughter for good.

HSI believes that a positive solution can be found for the seals, the sealers and the communities involved in the seal hunt. HSI and the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of South Africa met several years ago with the Namibian government and are hoping to reopen these discussions in the coming weeks with the aim of negotiating an end to this slaughter.