Many of us remember the image of the harp seals in Canada with their white fur, large dark eyes and pure innocence. We remember the enormous outcry against the clubbing and skinning of these little animals for their fur and the joyous relief when the Canadian government heeded worldwide opinion and heavily reduced this needless slaughter.
Incredibly, the Canadian government is allowing this massacre to happen again -- with a vengeance. This time it's not the beautiful "whitecoats" but the slightly more mature (by only about three weeks) "beaters," still babies, but with little or no fur because they are molting and unable to swim or hunt for themselves.
Though the United States prohibits the importation and sale of sealskin fashion items, these skins are highly valued by European fashion houses, such as Gucci, Prada and Versace. The quota of harp seals to be killed this spring is projected to be in excess of 350,000 -- an increase from the past season.
Why is the Canadian government allowing this? In addition to making a slight profit from the sale of seal pelts, sealers, who are normally fishermen outside of the brief sealing season, want this slaughter to continue because they claim that the seals are responsible for the decline of codfish and other fish stocks they depend upon for their livelihood.
In truth, a large number of scientists around the world now agree that it is the irresponsible policies of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans that led to vast overfishing and the decimation of fish populations.
Individual consumers and businesses, particularly restaurants, have the power to stop the killing of so many harp seals and, in turn, help to restore the ecological balance to the Canadian East Coast.
The Humane Society of the United States has called for a boycott of Canadian seafood. Canada exports close to $3 billion (Canadian) worth of seafood every year to the United States. The sealing industry, by contrast, only brings in about $16 million to Canada each year.
If we choose to buy seafood from other sources, the economic impact will force the Canadian government to rethink its damaging environmental policies. National companies such as Whole Foods Market, Legal Seafoods and many restaurants such as Tavern on the Green in New York have signed the pledge to not buy certain types of seafood, including snow crab, from Canada until the seal hunt is ended.
This simple act costs nothing and is easy to do. The country of origin is required on unprocessed fish products, and alternative seafood sources are readily available from the United States and other nations.
This small but significant gesture on our part will help the seals and our precious environment. For more information, contact the Humane Society at www.protectseals.org.
Maureen Schiener, of Animal Advocates of Western New York, lives in Amherst.