Canada defends seal cull while world calls for trade boycott Published: 22 March, 2006
HUNTERS are preparing to kill more than 300,000 baby seals this week despite growing international protests against the world’s largest massacre of marine mammals and a new threat to the animals from global warming, the Independent has reported.
Canada’s annual slaughter – the most controversial for decades – takes place as calls mount for a boycott of the country’s products. But the long-term future of the cull and the seals themselves looks increasingly likely to be dictated by climate change.
Hunters and protesters are heading for the Gulf of St Lawrence and the north-east coast of Newfoundland, waiting for the Canadian government to give the go-ahead for the cull. It was expected to start this week.
Ministers have already authorised the slaughter of 325,000 baby harp seals, the second highest number ever. It will be the third successive year in which more than 300,000 of the cubs have been clubbed and shot; by the end of the cull, the death toll since 2004 will top a million.
But the cull faces the most determined opposition for decades. Attempts to launch a global boycott against Canadian exports start in Britain this week. Major supermarkets will tomorrow receive letters urging them to stop stocking Canadian produce, and vigils will start outside travel agencies in 20 cities, trying to persuade Britons not to holiday in the country.
The supermarket campaign is being led by Lady (Sally) Stratford, widow of the former Labour minister Tony Banks, who was an ardent opponent of the cull. The former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe has also written to retailers to urge a boycott, and 188 MPs have signed an early day motion to support it.
The campaign has been boosted by the decision of Sir Paul McCartney and his wife, Heather, to travel to the floes this month to call for the cull to be called off. His daughter, the designer Stella McCartney, will give some of the proceeds from sales of a special T-shirt to the campaign.
The boycott began last year in the United States, supported by more than 400 restaurants, supermarkets and seafood wholesalers. This year it is expected to spread to France, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Mexico, Japan and the Netherlands.
The protesters are hoping to repeat a boycott of the early 1980s, which pushed Canada into banning the killing of the youngest pups, called whitecoats. But the hunters now evade the ban by waiting a few days until the seals begin to moult and their coats turn grey.
Canada is vulnerable to a boycott. It exports fish and seafood worth £1.6bn to the United States every year, while its fish exports to Britain are worth £56m, far outweighing the £9m value of seal skins and other hunt booty.
The Humane Society of the United States, the country’s leading animal protection charity, claims that the value of Canadian snow crab exports have dropped by £85m since the boycott began last year.
Many scientists, though, claim the real danger to the seals comes from climate change. Water temperatures off Newfoundland are 4.5C warmer than this time last year and the ice is already beginning to melt.
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