The Norwegian Seal Hunt
The Norwegian sealing season runs from January to September. The hunt involves “seal catching” by seagoing sealing boats on the Arctic ice shelf, and “seal hunting” on the coast and islands of mainland Norway. The latter is carried out by small groups of licenced hunters shooting seals from land and using small boats to retrieve the catch.
In 2005, Norway allowed foreign nationals to take part in the hunt. In 2006, 17,037 seals (including 13,390 harp and 3,647 hooded seals) were slaughtered In 2007, the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs stated up to 13.5 million Norwegian krone (about US$2.6 million) would be given in funding to vessels in the 2007 Norwegian seal hunt. This due to a bailout required by the industry which was in a financial crisis.
All Norwegian sealing vessels are required to carry a qualified veterinary inspector on board. Norwegian sealers are required to pass a shooting test each year before the season starts, using the same weapon and ammunition as they would on the ice. Likewise, they have to pass a hakapik test.
Adult seals more than one year old must be shot in the head with expanding bullets, and cannot be clubbed to death. The hakapik shall be used to ensure the animal is dead. This is done by crushing the skull of the shot adult seal with the short end of the hakapik, before the long spike is thrust deep into the animal’s brain. The seal is then bled by making an incision from its jaw to the end of its sternum. The killing and bleeding must be done on the ice, and live animals may never be brought on board the ship. Young seals may be killed using just the hakapik, but only in the aforementioned manner, i.e., they need not be shot.
Seals in the water and seals with young may not be killed, and the use of traps, artificial lighting, airplanes, or helicopters is forbidden.
The hakapik may only be used by certified seal-catchers (fangstmenn) operating in the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean and not by coastal seal hunters. All coastal seal hunters must be pre-approved by the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries and have to pass a large game hunting test.
In Norway in 2004, only Rieber worked with sealskin and seal oil. In 2001, the biggest producer of raw seal oil was Canada (two percent of the raw oil was processed and sold in Canadian health stores) Rieber had the majority of all distribution of raw seal oil in the world market, but there was no demand for seal oil. From 1995 to 2005, Rieber annually received between 2 and 3 million Norwegian krone in subsidy. A 2003–2004 parliamentary report says CG Rieber Skinn is the only company in the world that delivers skin from bluebacks. Most of the skins processed by Rieber have been imported from abroad, mainly from Canada. Only a small portion is from the Norwegian hunt. Of the processed skin, five percent is sold in Norway; the rest is exported.
Fortuna Oils AS (established in 2004) is a 100% owned subsidiary of GC Rieber. They get the majority of their raw oil imported from Canada. They also have access to raw oil from the Norwegian hunt.
Norway’s much-criticised commercial seal hunt could grind to a halt following parliament’s decision to scrap a hefty subsidy for the controversial practice.
Governmental support represents up to 80 percent of seal hunters’ revenue.
“Parliament has not decided to ban the seal hunt, but we fear that the hunt will actually disappear along with the subsidies,” said Geir Pollestad, head of the committee on trade and fisheries, whose party opposes abolishing public aid.
The seal hunt is of limited importance to Norway’s economy, but supporters of the practice say it is steeped in tradition and claim it’s a necessary means of controlling seal populations.
But the activity has provoked international controversy and diplomatic and trade problems for Norway.
In 2010 the EU introduced an embargo on products from the commercial seal hunt in Norway and Canada, justifying the measures on public outrage over what was considered brutality on the animals.
Seals are usually hunted with rifles and with so-called “hakapiks” — sticks fitted with a metal head to deal a fast, lethal blow to the animal.
Images of baby seals with snow white fur and huge black eyes being slaughtered on the ice have played a large part in mobilising public sentiment against the hunt, even though Norway prohibits catching animals of that age.
– Industry in ‘difficult situation’ –
Together with Canada — the world’s top seal-hunting nation –- Norway has long fought against the EU embargo, which exempts only hunting by indigenous peoples.
However, it has all been in vain: In May, the World Trade Organisation turned down the two nations’ appeal for the second time.
“The industry is in a difficult situation following the end of trade in seal products with the EU,” Pollestad said. Norway is not a member of the European Union.
Hunt supporters say seals are voracious consumers of fish and compete with the Nordic nation’s fishermen for catches.
But Siri Martinsen, leader of Norwegian NGO Noah, said it was a “myth” that seal populations must be limited in order to preserve fish stocks.
“There is no direct link… the ocean’s ecosystem is so complicated that we can’t say two minus one equals one,” she told AFP.
But in the end, budget constraints motivated Thursday’s vote to end the subsidy.
With about 12,000 seals hunted every year, the government subsidy amounts to roughly 1,000 kroner (110 euro, $136) per animal.
Pollestad, an opposition politician, said he suspected the centre-right government had decided to discontinue the subsidies to “be popular” with the EU.
“It’s suspicious when, from one year to another, we remove all subsidies to the industry,” he said.
But Line Henriette Hjemdal of the Christian Democrats, an ally of the ruling coalition, denied that pressure from Brussels played a role in removing the subsidies.
“It’s simply a matter of economics,” she said.
– ‘No longer necessary’ –
Animal rights and environmental organisations hailed Oslo’s decision.
“Greenpeace is happy that the Norwegian government has finally decided to stop subsidising an industry that clearly belongs to the past,” said the leader of Greenpeace in Norway Truls Gulowsen.
“There’s no reason that Norwegian taxpayers should subsidise people who slaughter animals in an objectionable manner just for their skin, and to make a product nobody wants,” said Martinsen.
In Canada, the International Fund for Animal Welfare urged Ottawa to follow Norway’s lead and also stop financing “an industry that is no longer necessary.”
Canadian seal hunting association head Gil Theriault, however, told AFP the EU ban has already devastated the local industry.
“Seal pelts are worth almost nothing, about Can$30, because nobody is allowed to buy them,” he said.