Canadian songstress Sarah McLachlan has waded into turbulent waters of the East Coast seal hunt with a letter that asks Prime Minister Stephen Harper to stop defending the industry and start helping sealers find a new way to make a living.
Ms. McLachlan, the Halifax native who is the winner of multiple Grammy and Juno awards, wrote to Mr. Harper on behalf of the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) pointing out that there is no longer an international market for seal pelts.
The letter dated last Friday was composed days before the annual hunt opens April 12 on "The Front" in Newfoundland, where about 70 per cent of the annual harvest usually occurs. The seal hunt in other regions, especially around the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, has been significantly curtailed this year because of poor ice condition.
Ms. McLachlan points out that 2012 may mark the final year of the commercial seal hunt because the last international market for the pelts went dry when Russia, which had been buying 95 percent of Canadian seal fur, joined the European Union and the United States late last year in banning seal-fur imports.
"This business is about as lucrative as an eight-track tape factory," she writes in her letter to the Prime Minister.
The recent oil boom has left eastern provinces flush with a new and reliable source of money so "it seems that the only reason why the federal government defends the dying seal-slaughter industry is to control the parliamentary swing seats in Newfoundland and Labrador," writes Ms. McLachlan, who wore one of PETA's ' Hug Me Don't Club Me' tee-shirts at the 2009 Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill.
The singer joins other animal welfare groups, like the Humane Society International, in calling for a government funding to help sealers adapt to a new way of life.
"The sealers – like tobacco farmers and asbestos miners – need leaders to devise a practical exit strategy for them, not waste millions more in hopeless World Trade Organization challenges or paying to stockpile pelts when buyers already have seal pelts going back several years," writes Ms. McLachlan. "Won't you lead the way?
The federal government says it will allow 400,000 of the marine mammals to be killed in this year's commercial hunt.
And the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador has provided $3.6 million in financing for Carino Company Ltd., a Norwegian-owned seal fur processor located in Newfoundland.
East Coast fishermen say the seal population must be reduced because each seal consumes 1.4 tonnes of fish a year and threatens the supply available for human consumption. But animal-rights activists point out that some scientists dispute the impact of seals on the fishery and say the animals may even promote the supply of fish as a natural part of the ecosystem.