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In 2008, Record Number of Businesses Call to End Canada's Seal Hunt

The Humane Society of the United States

A record number of American consumers and seafood purveyors put their pocketbooks to work in 2008 to help end the Canadian seal slaughter. Eighteen grocery store chains with more than 760 locations and hundreds of restaurants joined the boycott of Canadian seafood during the year, bringing the total number to more than 5,000 establishments.

By encouraging restaurants, chefs and consumers to boycott Canadian seafood, The Humane Society of the United States intends to convince Canada's fishing industry to stop participating in and supporting the bloody commercial seal hunt each spring in the Atlantic Ocean.

Some of the well known grocery chains that joined the boycott in 2008 include BI-LO Supermarket, The Fresh Market, Harris Teeter, Lowe's Foods and WinCo Foods. They join other participants of the boycott including Legal Sea Foods, Whole Foods Markets, Trader Joe's, Margaritaville Cafes, Ted's Montana Grill and Oceanaire. A full list of campaign participants can be found here.

Participants across the country, from other multi-billion dollar corporations to smaller chains, echo the sentiments expressed by Michael Read, vice president of public and legal affairs for WinCo Foods, who said, "We believed it was proper for us to stand with other grocers, restaurants and suppliers against this inhumane slaughter. As a company, we felt it was appropriate to take this position on behalf of our employees."

Restaurants, seafood distributors and grocers participating in The HSUS' ProtectSeals campaign pledge to avoid Canadian snow crab, or all seafood from sealing provinces, or seafood from all of Canada until the hunt ends for good. Roughly 90 percent of these sealer/fishermen live in Newfoundland, making the province and its top seafood export item — snow crabs — the main focus for boycott participants. The HSUS has received signed pledges from all boycott participants.

Since the launch of the ProtectSeals campaign, the value of Canadian seafood exports to the United States has dropped dramatically, providing clear financial incentive for Canadian fishermen to stop killing seals. Snow crab exports to the United States have dropped by more than $750 million since the boycott was launched. This translates to more than $200 million in lost sales a year, whereas the commercial seal hunt only generated less than $7 million for sealers in 2008.  

Trade data shows the 2007 value of exports to the United States from the Newfoundland fishing and seafood preparation industries decreased by 44 percent compared to 2004, the last year before the boycott began. In exactly the same economic conditions and time period, exports from non-seafood industries in Newfoundland went up by a wide margin.

After summarizing the combined impact of the boycott and the European Union trade ban, Murray Teitel recently wrote in Canada's leading business newspaper The Financial Post: "Enough already. This is a colossal waste of taxpayers' money. And the sealers? Sealers should prefer these monies be used to train them for jobs in the 21st-century economy, rather than to preserve them as relics of a hunter/gatherer one."

John Grandy Ph.D., senior vice president for wildlife and habitat protection of The HSUS, said, "A win-win solution lies in the creation of a sealing license retirement plan. Under such a plan, Canadian fishermen who participate in the commercial seal hunt would receive fair compensation for the small amount of additional income they earn killing seals. Both the commercial seal hunt and the boycott would come to an end."

The European Commission put forward a proposal to ban the  import and trade in seal products in the European Union — a move many believe is a historic step toward ending cruel commercial seal hunts around the world. A decision is expected in April 2009. If the EU markets close to seal products, the pelt prices would decline even farther than they have, giving the fishermen another incentive not to slaughter baby seals.

Facts about Canada's Commercial Seal Hunt:

  • Canada's commercial seal hunt is the world's largest slaughter of marine mammals, with more than 1 million seals killed in the past four years.
  • Each year, suffering is documented at the commercial seal hunt: Seals are cut open while responding to pain, conscious seals are impaled on steel spikes and dragged across the ice floes and wounded seals are left to suffer.
  • Veterinary experts say the commercial seal hunt is inherently inhumane because of the physical environment in which the seal hunt operates and the speed at which it must be conducted.
  • Ninety-seven percent of the seals killed in the commercial seal hunt are less than 3 months old when they are slaughtered. Many have yet to take their first swim or eat their first solid meal when they are killed.
  • Independent scientists warn Canada's seal hunt management plan poses a threat to the survival of seal populations, particularly in light of the effects of global warming on these ice-dependent animals. Decreasing ice cover in the northwest Atlantic in recent years has led to mortality rates as high as 100 percent in key seal birthing areas, where sea ice melted before the pups were old enough to survive in open water.
  • Sealers are commercial fishermen, who earn, on average, less than 5 percent of their incomes from killing seals. The remainder of their income is won from fishing crab, shrimp and lobster.
  • Canada exports nearly two-thirds of its seafood to the United States, which produces $2.5 billion annually for the Canadian economy. In 2005, The Humane Society of the United States launched a boycott of Canadian seafood products as a means of pressuring the Canadian fishing industry and government to stop the seal hunt.
  • In recent years, 10 countries have either banned their trade in seal products or announced their intentions to do so. The European Union is currently considering a prohibition on seal product trade.
  • Nigel Barker, noted photographer and judge on "America's Next Top Model," is a spokesperson for the campaign. Barker accompanied HSUS staff to the ice floes in spring 2008 to photograph the seal nursery and document the hunt.

For more information about the campaign to save Canadian seals, please visit humanesociety.org/protectseals.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 10.5 million Americans, or one of every 30. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.