The premier of Newfoundland and Labrador thought he had warded off a possible ban on the import and sale of seal products by the European Union when he met with a group of foreign journalists to dispel myths about the cruelty of the province’s seal hunt, but a letter delivered to the British Parliament indicates he did not succeed.
Premier Danny Williams met with visiting journalists on Feb. 1 in St. John’s. On Feb. 8, the British government released a statement indicating it will push the EU to impose a ban on seal products from the province.
The British government is “deeply concerned” about reported cruelty during the annual seal hunt, according to a statement by British Foreign Office Minister Ian McCartney.
McCartney’s written message to the House of Commons stated, in part, that the government “has undertaken a review of policy on this issue and has concluded that the U.K. should press the European Commission to propose EU-wide measures to ban the import of listed harp- and hooded-seal products.”
Williams told Canadian reporters after his meeting with foreign journalists that he had dispelled myths about the hunt and stressed that sealing provides vitally important employment opportunities in tiny, economically stressed coastal communities.
He also told the group he wears a seal coat “with great pride” and takes seal oil capsules daily. Journalists met with others involved in the industry as well, and with Loyola Sullivan, Canada’s new ambassador for fisheries conservation.
“I am disappointed with the statement released today in the British House of Commons which reinforces inaccurate information concerning Canada’s seal hunt,” Hearn said in a statement following the British announcement.
“Parliamentarians from the U.K. have received abundant information from Canadian officials that prove the hunt is conducted in a humane manner, including reports done by international, independent veterinarians.”
Animal rights groups hailed the British announcement.
“This move sends a strong message to the Canadian government that the cruelty of the seal hunt won’t be tolerated,” Robbie Marsland, U.K. director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in a statement.
The European Union decided last month to conduct a study of the annual hunt on Canada’s East Coast before deciding whether to press for legislation closing much of the European market to seal products.
An Austrian reporter attending the meeting with Williams told local reporters later that he never realized that many sealers live in small communities and use their own boats. The only information Europeans usually get about the seal hunt, he added, is from animal rights groups.
Last year, more than 6,000 Atlantic Canadians were actively involved in the seal hunt. Mark Small, chairman of Newfound-land’s Northeast Sealers Co-operative and a veteran hunter, said the annual hunt is becoming an increasing economic benefit for fishermen, many of whom are suffering because of the decline of such traditional fish stocks as cod.
Federal officials are reviewing the rules governing the hunt now, and considering quota reductions for this year’s hunt based on recent, lower population projections. Prices rose to $100 per pelt last year and markets for seal oil — widely believed to be good for joint pain and a rich source of Omega 3 — are increasing. Last year, around 350,000 seals were killed.
The seal season usually begins in late March and new rules probably won’t be in place before the hunt opens, and could take as long as two years. Sealers are bracing for another serious round of protests.
“We’re not worried about keeping the protesters away. We’re worried about protecting our sealers,” said Hearn, the Canadian fisheries minister.