Animal Rights Groups Slam Seal Hunt Bill
Animal Rights Groups Slam Seal Hunt Bill

Animal rights groups are crying foul over a bill that would make it more difficult for them to observe the seal hunt, which is set to open later this month in Atlantic Canada. 

Bill C-555, or An Act respecting the Marine Mammal Regulations, seeks to increase the distance that unauthorized persons or “unlicenced observers” must maintain from seal harvesters.

The bill, which recently had its second reading, would change the safety distance to a full nautical mile (1.8 km) instead of the present half nautical mile. 

Conservative MP Greg Kerr, who introduced the bill last November, says the aim is to protect sealers and hunt observers, show support for the commercial seal hunt, and ensure that seal harvesters can go about their job “without fear of disruption.” 

But Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International-Canada, is calling it a “nuisance bill” and an attempt to spread misinformation.

“We are there to document and record what happens, not to obstruct [the seal hunt], and the Canadian government is well aware of that,” she says. 

“In the 15 years that I’ve observed the commercial seal hunt at close range I have never once heard of or seen a sealer threatened by an observer in any way, shape, or form. But I have seen countless instances where sealers have attacked observers.”

Aldworth also worries that the bill will punish innocent bystanders such as tourists, wildlife observers, and local residents who unknowingly enter the 1.8 km range of the seal hunt and subsequently incur hefty fines. 

“Ultimately there is no practical way for local residents and eco-tourists to know exactly where commercial seal hunting is happening, and when. And yet this bill puts the onus on those residents and tourists to determine that information,” she says, adding that it could curtail the lucrative seal-watching and eco-tourism market. 

Currently, anyone can apply to Fisheries and Oceans Canada for a licence to observe the seal harvest. Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Kerr admitted incidents of misusing the licence to disrupt the hunt have been “few and far between” but says there are “radical groups” that remain a threat. 

“There are those people who do not want to comply and do not want licences and simply want to disrupt the seal hunt. These are those people we are most concerned with,” he said.

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea and Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq both support the bill. Shea said in a statement that it will “help to strengthen our management of the Canadian seal harvest while improving the safety of everyone involved.”

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has also raised concerns about the bill, saying it may be paving the way for a cull of 70,0000–200,0000 grey seals, which the government has long blamed for a lack of fish stock recovery in the southern Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

It is harp seals that are targeted during the commercial seal hunt. According to IFAW, grey 
seals are often encountered on land, and regularly within range of human habitation and coastal 

“The introduction of Bill C-555 suggests that a sanctioned cull, or Strategic Targeted Removal (STR) of grey seals is being planned in areas that are within one nautical mile of human activity,” says a Feb. 27 IFAW briefing document.

The Canadian Sealers’ Association did not respond to interview requests by press time, but a statement on the organization’s website supports Bill C-555, saying it meets seal harvesters’ security concerns.

  • eyelashviper

    Yeah, we just want our seal hunters to bash, maim, and haul away the bloody carcasses without anyone watching…disgusting.

  • Smedley_Butler

    “Currently, anyone can apply to Fisheries and Oceans Canada for a licence to observe the seal harvest”

    I’m not familiar with the intricacies of Canadian policy; What other hunts and harvests do you need a license to observe? As a tourist it would be helpful to know when to avert my eyes in order to comply with national law and regulations.

    • Canukistani

      I’m not a hunter, but I know it’s common here to have to get a license to hunt, and they can be pretty specific about what you can hunt. But I’ve never heard of needing a license to observe any hunt, let alone this miserable excuse for one.

      I don’t know if this was the case under previous governments and the Harper government is extending this or if it’s entirely new, but I do know that this one is always trying to conceal things that it feels the public might think are unpleasant. Oddly enough, they ran on a platform of openness and transparency too. I can only assume that they have different meanings for those words than the rest of us do.

      • Smedley_Butler

        “Openness and transparency” mean “arrest the whistle-blower” here in the US.

        They speak of the seal hunt as a harvest. Are there any actual seal farms where seals are raised and “harvested”.

        • Canukistani

          Used to be that “Openness and transparency” here meant that if you played their long, complicated game long enough and in just the right way you could find out some of what you wanted to know, usually when it was too late to do anybody any good.

          Now it means they do their best to keep you from even finding out that there’s an issue you need to know more about. If they can deny it’s even happening so much the better.

          As far as “harvesting” seals goes, that happened when video of their “hunts” started to surface and even the proponents of it had to admit that it wasn’t really much of a hunt. At that point they decided that harvesting sounded better than slaughtering.

  • Snaptrap

    As a Canadian, I have no problem boycotting Canadian seafood.

  • Dion Dakins

    Ah yes, check out the innocent and compassionate HSI and Aldworth.

  • On Dre

    I was an “observer” in the 05 so-called hunt. I suggest you make the limit twenty miles. Once people see what happens on the ice, sealing will become deader than Elvis. Make no mistake this is only about silencing your citizens (and the rest of the world) from speaking the truth about what happens on the ice flows. To suggest that a sealer, armed with a hakapic, a knife, and possibly even a firearm needs to fear some anemic vegan with a digital camera is laugh-out-loud laughable. Surely the Canadian lawmakers dont think their fishermen are scardy cats like that. Maybe they do. Maybe thats why they need to beat up on defenseless animals. Crazy world.

× close