Proposed Ban on Trade of Seal Products

Written by on August 20, 2008 in Marine Life

(This article was originally published on OceanLines on August 20, 2008.)

Photo: Copyright IFAW, used with permission. Harp Seal Pup.

Photo: Copyright IFAW, used with permission. Harp Seal Pup.

On July 23, the European Commission adopted a proposal that will ban trade in most seal products within the European Union.

The effort began in 2006 when 425 members of the European Parliament signed a declaration calling on the European Commission (EC) to create legislation to ban trade in seal products of any kind. After the EC studied the humane aspects of seal hunting, they assessed European public opinion and found that the public was in favor of a ban. Two years after it began, and hundreds of thousands of seals later, the EC ban could become law.

In 1972, the United States banned its trade in seal products, as well as other marine mammal products. In 1983, the EU passed a ban on the trade in products from newborn harp seals and hooded seal pups. However, there were enough loopholes for governments to still continue the seal hunt and kill the pups when only a few days older. Harp Seal pups are the primary target and in the 2006 hunt 98% of the harp seals killed were under 3 months of age.

“The people of Europe and the European Parliament will accept nothing less than a total ban” says Neil Parish, President of the European Parliament’s animal welfare intergroup. However, the proposal does include exemptions that would allow the trade of seal products if there was a guarantee that the pups were killed humanely with no unnecessary suffering.

Photo: Copyright IFAW, used with permission. Harp seal pup about to be killed with a hakapik.

Photo: Copyright IFAW, used with permission. Harp seal pup about to be killed with a hakapik.

In 2001 an independent team of veterinarians observed the hunt, studied the seals and concluded that about 42% of the seal pups had been skinned alive. Some companies who process the seal skins deduct money for every bullet hole they find so the hunters have no incentive to shoot the seals before skinning them. They are most often beaten to death, or almost to death, with spiked clubs or hakapiks.

The skins and fur are used mainly for fasion but there is very little market for seal meat so often the skinned seals are left to rot in the ice, making the seal hunt not only inhumane, but wasteful.

In the past three years nearly one million seals have been killed in the hunt. About 300,000 seals are killed annually in Canada alone. It is the biggest hunt in the world which is why many of the anti-hunt groups focus on Canada. Loyola Hearn, Canada’s Fisheries Minister continues to insist that Canada holds “a humanely conducted hunt.”

Countries that participate in the seal hunt in the EU include Sweden, Finland, the Danish territory of Greenland and the UK. Countries that have completely prohibited trade in seal products include the United States, Belgium, the Netherlands, Mexico, Slovenia, and Croatia. Only the United States and South Africa have successfully banned commercial hunting of seals.

Copyright ©  2008 by OceanLines

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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