Geoff Regan: Beyond the rhetoric of Canada's seal hunt

Like the fishery, the annual seal hunt is an important industry and a time-honoured tradition for people in Canada's coastal communities. Seals are a valuable natural resource that provide income in remote towns and villages where few other economic opportunities exist.

Unfortunately, this industry and its importance to thousands of Canadians are often misunderstood and clouded by misleading rhetoric and sensational images that tell a selective, biased, and often false story about the seal hunt. The tragic result is that this industry, and the people who rely on it for a living, are undeservedly cast in a negative light by a few powerful organisations putting their own agendas ahead of the truth.

As Canada's Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), and a proud Atlantic Canadian, I would like to set the record straight on Canada's seal hunt and how it operates.

All Canadians need to understand that sealing is a legitimate, sustainable activity based on sound conservation principles. The hunt is conducted in a humane and tightly regulated manner. Canada's seal population is healthy and abundant. Current estimates put the harp seal herd - the most important seal herd for this industry - in excess of five million animals, nearly triple what it was in the 1970s.

My department has strict conservation measures in place, and is committed to the careful management of all seals to ensure strong, healthy populations in the years to come. The seals hunted are self-reliant, independent animals that must already have moulted their white coat before being hunted. They are no longer part of a family unit. Hunting for harp (whitecoat) and hooded (blueback) seal pups is strictly prohibited, as is the trade, sale or barter of the fur of these pups.

To prevent inhumane treatment, seals are killed quickly and according to strict regulations. Canada's seal-hunting methods have been studied and approved by the Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing, which found that the methods used in the seal hunt compare favourably to those used to hunt other wild animals, and those used to slaughter domestic animals - like cattle and poultry - for human consumption. In 2002, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) issued a Special Report on Animal Welfare and the Harp Seal Hunt in Atlantic Canada, which concluded that virtually all harp seals - fully 98 per cent - are killed in a humane manner.

The hunt is closely monitored and tightly regulated. Fishery Officers conduct regular at-sea surveillance and dock-side checks to ensure that the rules of the hunt are being followed, and that the hunting practices being employed are humane and in accordance with the Marine Mammal Regulations. Strict enforcement of the rules has been - and will continue to be - a top priority for the seal hunt.

It is especially disturbing that some organisations are seeking to damage a legitimate Canadian activity and Canada's reputation abroad in public-relations campaigns in order to raise money for their organisations.

The sensational images and breathless rhetoric used to criticise this industry amount to a slap in the face to the thousands of families who, through the generations, have made their living from this resource. It is a real disgrace to have such negative light being cast on the Canadian men and women of this industry, and on the many proud coastal communities that rely on the seal hunt for their very survival. Worse, these carefully orchestrated public-relations campaigns twist the facts of the seal hunt for the benefit of a few extremely powerful and well-funded organisations.

I have the utmost respect for an individual's choice to support or oppose the seal hunt, and I encourage everyone to form their opinions based on the facts, not on sensational images and emotional rhetoric. While I certainly do not expect every person to support this industry, it is my hope that fair-minded Canadians will take the time to examine the facts, and find out for themselves how Canada's seal hunt is managed, monitored and enforced before making a final judgment.

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