Despite what animal rights organizations and radical activists would have you believe, the harp seal is not an endangered animal nor is it’s population on the decline. Since the 1970′s the population of harp seals in the North Atlantic has not only increased, it has tripled. The last survey conducted by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans reported the harp seal population at a record high 5.8 million animals.
With worldwide attention being brought to the collapse of the North Atlantic fish stocks by the media and by documentaries such as ‘The End of the Line” , it is crucial to identify one of the largest consumers and threats to the recovery of the stocks. Each harp seal consumes between 1 and 1.4 metric tonnes of fish each year, and with the exploding population of 5.8 million animals that translates to a consumption of at least 6 million metric tonnes of fish each year. This means that now while the fish stocks are in crisis, the record breaking seal population is consuming more fish than ever before in recorded history, and is not only a threat to the fish, but to its own sustainability.
To put this into perspective, Canada, a world leader in the management, consumption, and export of fish stocks only harvests 0.9 million metric tonnes annually, which includes both coasts (Atlantic and Pacific). The European Union, which has criticized the seal hunt and recently banned the import ofÂ seal products, was identified by the World Wildlife Fund to be the main offender in a 70% increase of destructive cod by-catch. At the 2007 annual meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization the WWF pushed for a cod recovery strategy that included setting a bycatch reduction target of 40 per cent for southern Grand Banks cod. The 40 per cent target was equivalent to a fishing mortality of 420 tonnes, which is estimated to be the maximum the population could withstand to still have some chance of recovery. Unfortunately, a total of 713 tonnes of bycatch was taken in 2008. Of that amount, the EU was responsible for 444 tonnes. These statistics do not account misreporting and illegal activity, which the EU, particularly Spain, has been accused of multiple times in the last 3 decades. Once again, to put this in perspective, â??lowâ? numbers for cod-consumption by harp seals suggest that this species makes up 4% of their diet â?? at the numbers provided, this comes out to 240,000 MT of cod consumed.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recognize the sustainable use of wild animal populations to be a cornerstone of their health and conservation. They have placed the harp seal on their list of “Least Concern”. Despite accusations of being cruel and inhumane, the hunting methods Eastern Canadian sealers employ are effective and humane, as shown in veterinary studies carried out by members of Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (2002), the Independent Veterinary Working Group (2005), and the European Union’s own Food Safety Authority (2007). In the latest study on the effectiveness of the methods used in the seal hunt, the methods used were proven to be around 95% and 96% efficient, higher than any other harvest of animals in the world.
Seals provide essential income and wild food to rural people, such as fishermen, to diversify their living at a time of year when employment opportunities are extremely limited. Sealers have stated that their income from sealing can represent from 25-35% of their total income.
Seals are used for their fat, meat and organs as well as their hides. With heart disease being the number one killer in North America, there has been promising research done by scientists using the valves from seal hearts. This research which is aiming towards repairing damaged human hearts using seal heart valves has the potential to save millions of lives.
Wikipedia -Harp Seal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harp_Seal
Wikipedia -Seal Hunting http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seal_hunting
Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans – Seal FAQ http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/seal-phoque/faq-eng.htm
Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans – Seal Facts http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/seal-phoque/reports-rapports/facts-faits/facts-faits2008-eng.htm
Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans – Seal Myths Debunked http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/seal-phoque/myth-eng.htm
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – European Union Main Offender in Overfishing Cod http://wwf.ca/newsroom/?3600
IUCN Redlist â?? Harp Seal listing, species â??of least concernâ? http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/41671/0
What can you do?
- Sign the Petition for a Universal Declaration on the Ethical Harvest of Seals www.sealsonline.org
- Go to Facebook and join the group “I Support the Seal Hunt“