These are all big questions. Recently there has been huge effort by the European Union, Human Society, and other activists, to stop the hunting of seals in Canada. Yet, we also see Canada’s Governor General Jean carving up and eating raw seal heart on public television, so what’s the deal?
The biggest problem with this issue is that, as with many issues, it’s not black and white, and the line between aboriginal seal hunting and commercial seal hunting is often blurred. Aboriginal hunts are part of their culture, a way of life, for the people that live so far north, mainly in Nunavut and some areas of Quebec, that there is little access to other food and economic resources. As custom to their culture, they only kill what is needed, using not only its skin, but its flesh for food as well. The number of seals hunted by aboriginal people is a small fraction, at most in the hundreds, when considering the hundreds of thousands of seals hunted ever year off the east coast of Canada.
So there who is killing the hundreds of thousands of seals? Commercial hunting, and that is what the protesting is against. The activist groups and the EU are not against the aboriginal people, but rather the mass killing of seals. Every year thousands of seals, younger then one month old, not even able to swim yet, are clubbed or shot. To make matters worse, many of the harp seals (the main type of seal hunted) do not die instantly, but suffer with bullet wounds to their death, many of them not even dead when they are skinned. Why make the seals suffer? It is because the hunters loss $2 for every bullet hole in the seals skin, thus less bullet holes more money.
However, how much money? Canada seems to make the argument that seal hunting is a huge economic producer for the people of the country, yet is it? Yes, the aboriginal people, specifically the Métis people, are very dependent on seal hunting. However, commercial seal hunting, which is responsible for the majority of the seal killings, does not actually bring in that much revenue. When accounting for the, approximately 6000 fishers, which participate in seal hunting, in Newfoundland and Quebec seal hunting only accounts for 5% of their income. That equates to less then 1% of Newfoundland’s GDP. In fact, the subsidies the Canadian government provides seal hunters, over twenty million dollars, is almost if not as much money as the income that commercial seal hunting produces.
So what gives? The only other reasoning for killing seals is so that the cod population, the type of fish the fishermen depend on for the majority of their income, does not decrease. Yet, how valid is this concern? Do seals really eat THAT much cod? No, they don’t. In fact seals are opportunistic feeders, meaning they eat whatever they can get their flippers on. Although, they do eat cod sometimes, they also eat predators of cod, such as squid.
The real reason, agreed upon by activists and scientists both for and against commercial seal hunting, for the decrease in the cod population is over-fishing. As well, some scientific studies have shown that the drastic increase in seal hunting within the past few years may also contribute to a dwindling cod population. The less seals there are, the more predators, usually eaten by seals, there are for cod.
Therefore, why are hundreds of thousands of seals allowed to be commercially killed every year for valid reason? Why is Canada risking its global reputation so more seals can die? It confuses me too. The Métis people should not be denied their culture, yet hundreds of thousands of harp seals should not be denied their lives. Allow the Métis to live off their hunt, killing in a sustainable manner, but making commercial hunting illegal.
 The Humaine Society of the United States. http://www.humanesociety.org/marine_mammals/protect_seals/about_the_canadian_seal_hunt/.
 The Star.com. http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/640978.
 Metis Culture. http://www.heritage.nf.ca/aboriginal/metis_culture.html. Discover Science and Conservation. http://www.whales-online.net/eng/FSC.html?sct=2&pag=2-3-2.html.