European Parliamentarian Caroline Lucas Champions the Seals

Captain Paul Watson received the following letter from the office of Caroline Lucas in the European Parliament.

Letter to Captain Paul Watson


Dear Paul,

Thank you for having written to Caroline regarding this timely yet highly emotive issue. As you may already be aware, a large part of Caroline's work is dedicated to animal welfare issues, and seals have always been at the forefront of this section of her work. In 2006 Caroline co-signed a Written Declaration (equivalent of a Westminster One Day Motion) on banning seal products in the EU, which was successfully adopted by the Parliament with a majority of 425 signatures. More recently Caroline has written to the Russian authorities in order to expose key statistics on the number of seal pups slaughtered every year on Russia's White Sea Coast. This week she will bring the issue up during the mini-plenary session in Parliament, as I have secured her an emergency speaking time.

It was twenty five years ago (almost to the day) that the European Community passed legislation banning the import of fur from 'white coat' harp seal pups and hooded seal pups. The ban resulted from a widespread revulsion of the clubbing to death of seal pups in Canada for a product nobody needs - fur. Today, the Canadian seal hunt is worse than ever. Earlier this year the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)  announced that 275,000 pups would be killed during this year's slaughter - nearly 100,000 more than the annual toll prior to the EC ban. And, despite the 1983 ban, Europe still plays a crucial role in supporting the killing. The sealers now wait just a few days until the harp seal pups (the main target of the hunt) have shed their white fur. These youngsters are still unable to swim and have not had a solid meal. They are clubbed or shot, for their fur, which can and is imported into the EU, including the United Kingdom, and it is the money from this trade that convinces sealers to continue the hunt. The sealers are cynically exploiting a loophole in European law that it is time to close.

Sealing is not a full-time job. Far from it, as it is carried out for only a few days each year by off-season fishermen. On average they make less than 5% of their income from sealing.. Sealing is also a dangerous and de-humanizing occupation. Many sealers have been injured or killed and many boats lost. A rich country like Canada could, and should, buy back the licenses of the sealers giving them fair compensation to re-invest in more dignified, sustainable work. Bludgeoning baby seals to death is not a great career in the 21st century. Canada is used to this idea. When the cod population collapsed in the early 1990s - overseen by the same government department that now says killing seals is a 'sustainable' fishery - 40,000 fishermen lost their main source of income. With government support, they moved over to fish for crustaceans (snow crabs and lobster). It would be wrong to think that sealing is carried out to protect the fish stocks - even the DFO does not argue this anymore. The ecosystem in the North West Atlantic is complex and, for much of their lives, harp seals eat a range of species, including those that prey on Atlantic cod. The DFO does, however, try to say that the harp seal population is huge ('more than 5.5 million') but bases its estimates on questionable methodology. The population could be significantly lower than this but, because the seals do not breed until they are 5-6 years old, we will not see the impact of the hunt for many years to come. The other alarming factor in recent years has been the lack of ice forming due to climate change in the Gulf of St Lawrence (where approximately one third of the hunt takes place). Harp seals rely on sea ice to breed. For millions of years they have migrated south to give birth on ice floes, free from predators. Last year there was hardly any ice in the southern Gulf and pup mortality approached 100%. Far from calling off the hunt, the DFO issued a quota of 270,000 and where it took place in the Northern Gulf it became a 'mopping up' exercise, tracking down and killing every pup that could be found.

Two thirds of the hunt takes place to the North of Newfoundland at an area known as the 'Front'. Here seal pups, sitting on moving ice pans, are mostly shot from moving fishing boats from distances up to 50 meters or more. It is impossible to get a clean shot under these circumstances and the hunt is inherently inhumane. Evidence of the consequent suffering has been shown to the world by groups such as the Humane Society International that, each year and under difficult circumstances, observes and films the seal hunt. It is this evidence that prompted the European Parliament to express its view in a Written Declaration co-signed by Caroline Lucas in 2006 that called for the Commission to 'immediately draft a regulation to ban the import, export and sale of all harp and hooded seal products'.

The European Commission response has been to examine the whole issue of seal killing (including the clubbing to death of 80,000 fur seal pups each year in Namibia). One of its reports concludes that 'there is strong evidence that, in practice, effective killing does not always occur'. How could it? The report also recommended that 'attempts should not be made to kill seals...that do not pose a stable target or where the sealer may be unbalanced (e.g. in adverse weather conditions, moving substrates) as it can cause avoidable pain, distress, fear and other forms of suffering.' But this describes the bulk of the seal hunt and underlines why we should be taking urgent action.

Caroline's Green Party colleague Carl Schlyter tried to witness the seal hunt in 2006 but was prevented from doing so by angry mobs that stopped helicopters taking off and wrecked one of the observation team's vehicles. It seemed they had something to hide and the subsequent video taken of the seal killing showed what they were keen for the world not to see: seals, shot and badly injured, gaffed and dragged onto boats, mandatory checks to ensure seals were dead rarely being carried out, and seals brutally clubbed multiple times because the first strike was ineffective.

Until we ban seal imports, we, in Europe, have the blood of the seals on our hands. It is clear, from countless opinion polls (and from my own constituents correspondence) that an import ban is very widely supported. Both the EU and the UK should bring in bans without any further delay. A UK ban is important as the Commission has said that national bans help pave the way for an EU-wide ban. Belgium and the Netherlands have already banned seal imports and the US banned them way back in 1972. We in the UK - the nation of animal lovers - should be taking a lead on issues such as this and a national seal import ban is long overdue.

Last month Caroline has called on the Russian authorities to make public key figures on seal deaths that would expose the annual mass slaughter of newborn seal pups on Russia's White Sea coast. In a letter to Ambassador Vladimir Shizov, the Russian representative to the European Union, Caroline expressed disappointment that her request for statistics on the number of seal pups, in particular newborn seals, killed between 2005 and 2006 in the White Sea area had been ignored. She has been driven to write directly to the Russian authorities following a lengthy period of inaction by the European Commission, which has so far failed to provide any information or exert the necessary pressure on Russia to come clean on the real figures.

Caroline commented: "Sadly, after two years of correspondence with the Commission, we are no closer to obtaining information on the numbers of seals killed during the annual White Sea slaughter. Following my initial demands for information in 2006, I was informed by the Commission in 2007 that they had raised the issue with the Russian authorities - but a full year on, I have not yet received any of the relevant information. In writing directly to Ambassador Shizov, I hope to gain the information which would expose the extent of the slaughter, and enable us to initiate a much-needed campaign to prevent this cruel and unnecessary practice. And let's not forget, 'sealing' is intensely cruel - as many as 40 per cent of seals are skinned while they are still conscious."

She continued: "Furthermore, I call on the Commission to enforce an import ban on seal products, which would be entirely consistent with EU and world trade rules enshrined in the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), both of which allow exceptions to free trade on the grounds of 'public morality' - a concept understood to include concern over animal welfare issues. A ban on imports into the EU - the biggest market for seal fur - would bring us a significant step closer to ending the barbaric cull of hundreds of thousands of seals in Canada and Russia every year."

I hope that this information has been of use to you, and that you have a clearer idea of Caroline's ongoing work in this area of animal welfare, especially with regards to the horrifically inhumane culling of seals.

If you would like any further information then please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best wishes,


Alexandra Phillips
Office of Caroline Lucas MEP
Green Party MEP for South East England
The European Parliament
Rue Wiertz
Brussels 1047