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Ottawa ends large-scale seal hunt

Those beseeching eyes were impossible to avoid. In the 1970s images of fuzzy white seal pups were everywhere as activists fought to end the seal hunt in Canada. Seals have been harvested for generations on the floes of the Atlantic coast, but concerns about killing methods and conserving the herd virtually ended the practice in the 1980s. The threat of too many cod-eating seals resurrected the hunt, and today anti-cruelty activists monitor an industry that's at its strongest in decades.

Both foes and supporters of the seal hunt have been waiting for today's announcement: the whitecoat seal hunt is banned in Canada. The ban was recommended last year in the final report of the Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing. But a more recent threat from seal hunt opponents -- to urge a U.S. boycott of Canadian fish -- prompted today's decision. "We've seen what they can do," says Newfoundland MP John Crosbie in this CBC News clip.
• In June 1984 the federal government set up the Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing. Hearings took place in 1985 in cities across Canada, with the biggest turnout in St. John's. The commission also visited London, but scaled back 12 days of scheduled hearings to just two.
• Though the commission's report was ready in June 1986, it was held back due to a court injunction. A CBC reporter in Halifax had revealed its contents before its official release.

• The report was finally tabled in the House of Commons on Dec. 17, 1986. Besides advocating an end to the seal pup hunt, the report recommended a controlled hunt of adult seals and compensation for sealers' lost income. It also suggested a $50 million fund for economic development in towns affected by the ban.
• The report also noted that the EEC ban on whitecoat pelts was unfair because the killing method was humane and the seals were not an endangered species.

• No commercial seal hunt happened in 1985 and 1986. In March 1987 two companies sent out large boats to hunt adult seals.
• Just 38 commercial sealers, using rifles, hunted seals that year. They took a total of 3100 pelts.
• Newfoundland landsmen -- about 6,500 in total -- fared considerably better, taking 39,000 seals.

• Caught short, Greenpeace, IFAW and the Sea Shepherd Society were unable to protest at the hunt. IFAW, however, threatened to sponsor a U.S. boycott of Canadian fish if there was a hunt in 1988.
• The government announcement followed the Royal Commission's recommendations to end the whitecoat and blueback hunts and to ban sealing by commercial vessels.
• The ban came into effect almost immediately, on Jan. 1, 1988.

• Though they were still permitted to hunt adult seals, Inuit in Canada's north were adversely affected by the ban. The market was so depressed that pelts were fetching only $5 to $6 each, compared with $32 before the EEC import ban.
• A Globe and Mail editorial after the announcement said the decision was "more a product of pressure.than the exercise of sound judgement" but concluded "the government's decision was the only one that made sense."
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Dec. 30, 1987
Guest(s): John Crosbie, Brian Davies, Winston Fowlow
Reporter: Marie Thompson
Duration: 2:25

Last updated: March 6, 2014

Page consulted on March 6, 2014

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