Seal of disapproval
Southern anti-fur lobby could hurt Northern hunters
by Ian Elliot
NNSL (Nov 03/97) - Just when it seemed the Northern fur industry was getting back on its feet, a major southern anti-sealing campaign threatens to knock it down again.
The commercial seal hunt, which takes place mostly in Newfoundland and Labrador, has been targeted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Major newspapers and magazines in Canada are carrying full-page ads paid for by the group. One shows an outline of a maple leaf oozing blood over a headline reading, "We are Canadians. Against the commercial seal hunt."
The ads, which are signed by prominent Canadians, including author Farley Mowat, actor William Shatner and filmmaker Norman Jewison, urge people to protest the killing of young seals and practices used in the Canadian commercial hunt, such as the skinning of seals that are not yet dead and the harvesting of seals only for their penises, which are sold to Asia as aphrodisiacs.
Officials with the campaign insist they are not concerned with small-scale arctic seal hunting and are taking pains to distinguish between that and Northern sealing.
"The campaign is explicitly designed to deal only with the commercial seal hunt," says fund director Rick Smith in the organization's Ottawa office.
"(IFAW) does not oppose subsistence hunting and every time we use the word 'sealing' in this campaign, we preface it with the word 'commercial.' We're very clear about that and we think people recognize the difference."
The distinction may be lost on consumers, however, and people may buying seal-trimmed garments because the fur is associated in the public mind with the cruelty of the Newfoundland hunt.
Larry Simpson of the territorial government's renewable resources division says Northerners have been working hard to nurture their fur industry and calls the campaign "an insult."
"We thought of a number of things we could do to respond, including a campaign saying 'Canadians in Support of the Inuit Seal Hunt,' but we just don't have the bottomless pit of money these other groups do."
The traditional hunt, using rifles and not clubs, does not take baby seals and involves none of the cruelty southern activists are targeting, he notes.
Only about 10,000 seal hides are sent to market each year by traditional hunters, he estimates, much fewer than the quarter-million from the Newfoundland cull.
Simpson scoffs at IFAW's standing offer to work with governments to develop other forms of economic activity that don't involve sealing.
"What are they going to do, car plants?" he asks.
Other Northern organizations are staying on the sidelines.
"We're just going to wait and see what's happening," said David Kritterdlik of Whale Cove, president of the Keewatin Wildlife Federation.
The board of the federation met last week and although the campaign was mentioned, the organization will not take a formal position until at least its January meeting, he said.
Canadian author and naturalist Farley Mowat, who lived in the North for many years and signed the ad opposing the hunt, emphasized that the campaign is not aimed at arctic hunters.
"There is no attempt to restrict or restrain traditional hunters," he said from his Nova Scotia summer home.
"They're not thinking about that. (The IFAW) would like to see an end to the seal hunt but they do recognize that there are people who depend on seal hunting for subsistence."
Aboriginal hunters should be behind the campaign, he said, because the seals taken by the commercial seal hunt are the same ones many traditional hunters rely on.
"Canadian native peoples who depend on hunting and trapping need to support this because whether they like it or not, they are associated with the butchery of the commercial seal hunt."