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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Depends: Whose Seal?

"The Commission has constantly indicated that there are no reasons to be concerned about the conservation status of seals. [No] Article of the EC Treaty could be used as a legal basis for the adoption of the proposal."
European Union 2009 legal opinion
Adult female harp seal

When the politicians who collectively make decisions in the name of the European Union tasked their legal department to review their intention to bring in a ban on imported seal products in 2009, the response wasn't quite to their agenda. But that didn't stop them, in any event, and although there was no legal basis for the ban to be instituted under the EU's common competition rules, the emotional vulnerability of EU members upset by the propaganda issued by groups championing a ban, ruled the day.

When Canada protested and went to the World Trade Organization asking them to adjudicate in the matter, the WTO in turn was unimpressed by the case the EU made for justification for their ban; no WTO rules existed that would support it. However, they ruled that even while the ban effectively undermined international trade obligations, it was nonetheless seen to be justified under "public moral concerns". The European public was excited to emotional distress.

Adult female harp seal entering water through breathing hole

Celebrity activism has that kind of effect on people. What happens to animals in abattoirs where they are dispatched to a dismal end to satisfy the palates of Europeans is beyond sight and thus simply irrelevant as a matter of weighty comparison. The sordid and often brutal dispatch of animals-for-meat can be viewed through quite a number of screenings meant to shock people into demanding a more enlightened practise, but it hits too close to the dinner table for most to really care.

The Government of Canada will undoubtedly appeal that World Trade Organization ruling too. It has been a long uphill battle to attempt to refute the slanderous accusations that baby seals are clubbed without human compassion, their white pelts skinned off them while they're still struggling and alive. Though this may on occasion have been a wretchedly unfortunate part of the seal hunt, hunting baby seals has been outlawed since 1987.

The French conservationist Jacques Cousteau once observed that seal hunt opposition is pure emotional outlet. "We have to be logical. We have to aim our activity first to the endangered species. Those who are moved by the plight of the harp seal could also be moved by the plight of the pig -- the way they are slaughtered is horrible."

A report issued by the Independent Veterinarians Working Group released in August of 2005 stated they had reached the conclusion that a hakapik strike to the seal's skull, while having an obvious appearance of stark brutality to an onlooker, the method represents a humane method of killing, causing immediate loss of consciousness. The hakapik is the traditional weapon used by Inuit hunting and slaughtering seals for the table and for clothing.

According to government estimates in Canada some 6.9-million Atlantic harp seals representing three times 1970s numbers are thriving in the Atlantic. The industry harvested roughly 91,000 seals in 2012, representing far fewer than allocated through the federal quota of 400,000. Furthermore, there is growing pressure emerging from the fishing lobby representing various European countries, eager to cull the Harp seal population to conserve fishing stock of cod and salmon.
 Herd of male harp seals swimming

Fisheries and Oceans Canada states how closely monitored and regulated the Canadian seal hunt is to ensure enforcement of humane treatment of the seals: "a highly mobile enforcement team maintains a presence on the ice floes 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the sealing season, with the assistance of the Canadian Coast Guard and the support of local police forces." Fines, seizure of equipment or a ban on further hunting represent forms of punishment for violators.

Fishermen and fish farms in Scotland and Denmark have been given waivers to shoot seals to diminish the numbers threatening their fish harvest. The hunters are discreet, engaging in the hunt with great secrecy to protect them from animal rights campaigners' unwanted attention. In addition to which the European Parliament's reform of common fisheries policy has called as well for an investigation into fish stocks reduction resulting from natural predation from sea lions, seals and cormorants.

They are looking into formulation of a management plan "to regulate these populations". Sounds more than a little like outright hypocrisy.

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