WASHINGTON – The time has come for a Canadian tradition involving a large wooden pickax and harp seals to expire,an American animal rights group said Monday.
The Humane Society of the United States called for a U.S. boycott of all seafood exported from the country to protest seal hunting practices along Canada's east coast.
“We have no quarrel with the Canadian people. This is a small group of people that are participating in this practice,” said Wayne Pacelle,president of the Humane Society,at a press briefing.
The group has been actively lobbying against the killing of seals for their pelts since the 1960s. Pacelle said the boycott is a last resort after years of imploring Canadian officials to place restrictions on harp seal hunting practices.
“We are left with no recourse but to wage the struggle in stark economic terms,” said Pacelle,who applauded Sen. Carl Levin,D-Mich.,for introducing a resolution in February condemning Canadian commercial seal hunts.
Pacelle said he has written to 5,000 U.S. food distributors asking them to join the boycott of Canadian seafood until the seal hunt is stopped. A few have agreed to do so,including Downeast Seafood,which distributes to 400 restaurants,and restaurant chain Legal Seafood. Pacelle said Red Lobster restaurants will stop purchasing Canadian snow crabs during the next fishing season,which begins in March,according to a Canadian government Web site.
Jasmine Panthaky,deputy spokeswoman for the Canadian Embassy in Washington,said the seal hunt is legal in Canada and is a long-standing tradition that provides income for commercial fisherman during the off season.
But complaints from the Humane Society have also become somewhat of a tradition,Panthaky said. “This time around they've decided to take a different route,” Panthaky said of the boycott.
The United States remains Canada's most important market for seafood,and its exports were valued at $2.2 billion in 2003. Panthaky said it is too soon to gauge the boycott's effect on Canada's economy.
“We should understand that free flow of trade is what our countries depend on,” she said. “We're disappointed that the boycott has been instituted.”
According to documents available on the Canadian government's Web site,the North Atlantic seal hunt plays a vital role in managing the country's abundant harp seal population,which was estimated at more than 5 million in 2003.
The seals,which are blamed for eating too much fish and depleting cod populations,are hunted for commercial purposes. The 2003-2005 Atlantic Seal Hunt Management Plan allows seal hunters to catch up to 975,000 seals over three years.
Actress Elizabeth Berkley flew overnight from Los Angeles to join the humane rights organization in condemning the seal hunt.
“I'm personally outraged by the murder of these helpless and defenseless animals,” said the actress best known for her TV role in “Saved by the Bell” and the movie “Showgirls,” as she read from notes on slips of pink notebook paper.
Rebecca Aldworth,a Canadian who handles wildlife issues for the Humane Society,led a film crew to the Gulf of St. Lawrence to document the seal hunt. “We saw scenes of unimaginable suffering,” Aldworth said as footage played on a screen behind her,flashing images of seal hunters clubbing the animals to death.
Aldworth said little has been done to protect the seals since the 1980s,when the Canadian government placed restrictions on hunting practices,making it illegal to kill seals less than 12 days old.
Placing further limits on the seal hunt,or halting it altogether,will be up to the Canadian government,Panthaky said.
“And obviously it will also depend on the provinces from which the fishermen come,” she said. “At this point,given that,now trade is going to be affected,there will be a dialogue among all the players.”