Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre says he would expand Canada’s seal hunt if he becomes prime minister, provoking condemnation from animal-welfare groups in Canada, the U.S. and Britain, as well as singer-songwriter Jann Arden and Baywatch star Pamela Anderson.
Mr. Poilievre blamed opposition to the cull on “eco-nuts” in the United States and European Union and said killing more seals was needed to curb a rise in the seal population and protect Atlantic salmon, which he said were “being gobbled up by the excessive population of seals.”
Mr. Poilievre said in a video from Newfoundland that the “solution” to an overpopulation of seals eating Atlantic salmon was to “harvest more seals and market them for pet food or winter attire or omega” and other nutritional products.
In 2022, around 27,000 harp seals were killed in the commercial hunt, which takes place off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Animal-welfare groups questioned his assertion that harp seals were responsible for depleting the Atlantic salmon population, saying harp seals feed principally on capelin – an eight-to-10-inch long fish – and crustaceans such as crab and krill.
Ms. Anderson, honorary director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who is from British Columbia, was among those to speak out about the Tory leader’s plans.
She called it “barbaric and unsustainable” adding there is no market for seal pelts. “It makes no sense. There are other ways to stay true to tradition and save the environment,” she said.
Ms. Arden, an animal-welfare campaigner, said: “Expanding the seal hunt paints such a vile picture of us as a country.”
The EU banned the import of seal products in 2009, after an international outcry about Canada’s hunt. The U.S. has also banned the import of seal products.
Mr. Poilievre, who tried on a seal-fur coat during the video, said an expanded cull “will protect our fishery, bring our fishery back to life ... bring it back with strength and vibrance.”
In 1992, Canada’s Atlantic cod fishery was closed after the collapse of Atlantic cod stocks, with some saying seals contributed to their decline.
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Ashley Byrne of PETA said the Conservative Leader was “delusional if he thinks there could ever be a market for skins from violently murdered seals.”
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith said: “Expanding the seal hunt to create jobs makes as much sense as putting your family savings in bitcoin to opt out of inflation.”
In Britain, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) condemned the Tory leader’s plan as cruel.
Sheryl Fink, director of wildlife campaigns at IFAW Canada, drew a distinction between smaller Indigenous hunts where every part of the animal is used, and the mass cull off Newfoundland of tens of thousands of seals.
She said people worldwide are appalled by the way the sealers kill the seals. “They club them with a wooden bat, or stick with a spiked end, or shoot them or both,” she said.
Mr. Poilievre “has been really poorly briefed” about seals’ depleting salmon, she added. “Harp seals eat mostly crustaceans.”
Professor Alex Marland, head of political science at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, said there is widespread support for the annual seal hunt in the province, where fisheries critic Clifford Small holds the Tories’ only seat.
“In politics you look for wedge issues. Pierre Poilievre is trying to tap into the Newfoundland identity. The seal hunt matters a lot to Newfoundland,” he said. “I think it’s a smart play.”
But Prof. Marland, former director of communications at the Department of Fisheries, said he was confused why Mr. Poilievre had focused on the impact of seals on salmon, “because seals eat cod.”
Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray’s office said that though seals do eat some salmon, they face other pressures, including habitat degradation.
“Science shows that that seals are unlikely to be the main driver of declines of wild Atlantic salmon population,” it said in a statement.
Barry MacKay, director of the Animal Alliance of Canada, accused Mr. Poilievre of “playing politics” by pledging to increase the number of harp seals killed.
“In doing so he will reignite the opposition to Canadian products. That is the last thing we need,” he said.
Doug Chiasson, executive director of the Fur Institute of Canada, said: “Decades of misinformation from animal rights campaigners has had a huge impact on Canada’s seal harvest, an impact that science shows is now having demonstrable negative effects on commercial and at-risk fish species across Atlantic Canada.”