Just as the gruesome annual Canadian seal hunt is winding down, the
At issue was whether the EU could ban the trade in seal products that were the result of commercial hunting and selling — but have an exemption for indigenous communities such as the Inuit, which hunt seals, primarily for meat and for subsistence. They are allowed to sell their products in Europe.
In fact, a panel of the WTO found in 2013 that, yes, that exemption was a discriminatory application of the policy. But the WTO still upheld the ban on the commercial hunt for the ban's greater purpose: animal welfare. The WTO referred to it as the EU's "public moral concerns" on the seal hunt.
Canada and Norway appealed the WTO ruling, and the WTO's appellate body ruled last week that the EU had the right to ban the commercial trade.
At this point, no sealers are doing huge trade in seal products because of the extensive ban and the public awareness of the cruelty of the hunt. The quota set by the Canadian government for the seal hunt this year is 400,000 (although that figure is unlikely to be reached). According to Humane Society International, more than 2 million seals have been killed in Canada, making it the largest slaughter of marine mammals in the world.
The images are now infamous and horrific: seal pups being clubbed to death and dragged bleeding off ice floes. However, as with any commercial slaughter, it is highly regulated. The Canadian government sets quotas for kills, restricts the age at which seals can be killed (not younger than 25 days old), specifies the types of weapons, outlaws the skinning of the seals before they are dead, and now mandates that hunters go through some basic training before they can become licensed. And, to the Canadian government's credit, it doesn't interfere with animal welfare groups' efforts to film and monitor the hunt.
But all those laws are not always observed. Seals are sometimes not quickly killed and die painfully. And there is no substantial economic reason for this barbarous tradition to continue. This is part-time work at best for sealers, who get the bulk of their income from fishing the rest of the year. An estimated 5% of their income comes from sealing.
Half the world's markets are closed to commercial seal products — mostly fur pelts and oils for ridiculous potions. The United States, Russia, Taiwan, Mexico and the EU ban sales of seal products. The business is so ailing that Newfoundland has given about $7 million in economic subsidies to a seal fur processor.
Animal welfare advocates have urged the Canadian government to shut down the commercial seal industry by bailing out about 6,000 licensed hunters. (This would not affect the Inuits engaged in subsistence sealing.)