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April 6, 2010

Poll Shows Broad Support Among Newfoundland Sealers for a Federal Sealing Industry Buyout

Seal hunt opens amid high pup mortality, low seal fur prices and reduced industry participation

Humane Society International/Canada

A recent poll [PDF] conducted by Ipsos Reid reveals that half of Newfoundland sealers holding an opinion support a federal buyout of the commercial sealing industry, which would involve fishermen and vessel owners being compensated for their sealing licenses, and money being invested in economic alternatives for affected communities. Two-thirds of licensed Newfoundland sealers holding an opinion believe that the landed value of the seal hunt will remain the same as 2009 (less than $1 million CAD in Newfoundland) or decline further. Telephone interviews were conducted with 267 fishers, 181 of whom identified themselves as holders of a sealing license, between Dec. 7, 2009 and Jan. 24, 2010.

“The Canadian government claims they are supporting sealers by promoting and subsidizing the sealing industry. Yet this poll reveals broad support among sealers for a federal buyout of the sealing industry — a solution that would allow Canada to gracefully exit a controversy that has haunted us for five decades,” stated Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada. “Sealers are clearly feeling the impacts of depressed seal product markets and a boycott of Canadian seafood that will continue until the seal slaughter ends for good.”

In 2005, The Humane Society of the United States launched a boycott of Canadian seafood products with the goal of compelling the Canadian seafood industry and government to end commercial sealing forever. Sealers are commercial fishermen who, on average, earn a tiny fraction of their annual incomes from killing seals — the remainder from seafood such as crab, shrimp and lobster. Two-thirds of Canadian seafood is exported to the United States each year, achieving $2.5 billion annually for the Canadian economy. In contrast, the landed value of the seal hunt in Newfoundland last year was less than $1 million CAD. To date, more than 5,500 establishments and 650,000 people have pledged to avoid some or all Canadian seafood until the seal hunt ends for good.

While Canadian government representatives have tried to downplay the impact of the boycott, the sealing industry is clearly concerned. The Ipsos Reid poll revealed that of sealing license holders voicing an opinion:

  • 79 percent are aware of the U.S. boycott of Canadian seafood.
  • 56 percent of those who are aware of the boycott claim to have been personally impacted by it, either through lost business or lower prices for their products.
  • 81 percent expressed concern about the impact of the boycott. 79 percent believe it will hurt the fishing industry in the coming months and years.
  • 67 percent believe the landed value of the sealing industry will remain at current levels or decline further in coming years (38 percent feel the industry would decline significantly).
  • 50 percent support a federal buyout of the commercial sealing industry.

A record low sea ice formation off of Canada’s east coast has likely resulted in exceptionally high pup mortality this year. Sealers expect prices paid for seal fur to remain at a record low this year, and reduced participation in the seal hunt is expected by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

A federal buyout of the commercial sealing industry would compensate fishermen for lost income as the seal hunt is closed, and put public money into developing economic alternatives in the communities involved. Economists suggest such a plan would cost Canada less than the subsidies needed to continue the commercial sealing industry.

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Humane Society International/Canada is a leading force for animal protection, representing tens of thousands of members and constituents across the country. HSI Canada has active programs in companion animals, wildlife and habitat protection, marine mammal preservation and farm animal welfare. HSI Canada is proud to be a part of Humane Society International — one of the largest animal protection organizations in the world, with more than eleven million members and constituents globally. On the Web at hsicanada.ca.

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