Seal Alert Appeals to CITES to Take Action for South African Seals

Francois Hugo, who has been the leading champion of Southern African Fur seals for years, has sent the following letter and report to John Sellar of the Anti-smuggling, Fraud and Organized Crime section of CITES.

What follows is the report put together by Francois Hugo. It is worth reading to get a complete insight into the issue of Seal killing in Namibia and Southern Africa.


Dear Mr Sellar,


Thank you for your telephonic conversation yesterday. A number of issues were discussed and I therefore would like to further address some of these.

I ask CITES to consider the implications of the following very seriously;

  • The Namibian sealing industry contributes a fraction to the Namibian GDP - in fact less than 0.02% in the fisheries GDP, which is the third largest contributor to the economy. As an employer of jobs, it creates employment for between 14 and 150 part-time, migrant workers working from August to November. Income in 2000, from 42 000 seals earned Namibian $600 000 - which is equal to USD $100 000 for whole industry.
  • It is the mandate and objective of Seal Alert-SA to secure the future survival of the Cape fur seals through sound conservation - the sealing industry must therefore be stopped, as it has been done, in South Africa in 1990 and throughout its distribution range except Namibia.
  • It is not the mandate or intention of Seal Alert-SA to harm the Namibian economy is any meaningful way, (except to end sealing) however as in the case of South Africa, legal wildlife trade is a major source of revenue, and therefore illegal trade is regarded as a threat to the economy - the penalty of any illegal trade - would involve a complete ban of all wildlife trade and the possibility of other countries being prevented from trading.
  • CITES needs to urgently consider this position and translate these concerns to Namibia urgently, not only the Minister of Fisheries responsible for sealing (as he might already be compromised) but the President as well - the reason Seal Alert-SA states this is as follows;
    • Immediate cessation of the Seal Harvest, based on the allegations made to date (impact to the Namibian economy negligible); or alternatively
    • Seal Alert-SA is forced to continue with substantial evidence that in the end, will place CITES and the violations of its convention in such a serious light - that a total ban on all wildlife trade will become the only alternative penalty due to the severity of the violations (impacting severely on the Namibian economy) - and on all wildlife trade, not just the sealing industry.
    • It is not the intention of Seal Alert-SA to cause the cessation of all wildlife trade in Namibia, as a penalty - it seeks only to end sealing immediately.

Please could CITES therefore convey these real concerns to the Namibian officials - and request their immediate voluntary announcement to end sealing. Should Namibia accept this offer - Seal Alert-SA will do everything in its power to communicate this to its 12 million supporters and promote the Namibian tourism economy. South Africa has a thriving seal-viewing eco-tourism industry which has existed for over 25-years - one island colony alone, has become one of the top ten attractions in the western Cape, where over 400 000 tourists are ferried annually earning over R20 million in direct ticket sales or USD 3.5 million.

Seal Alert-SA would just need to ensure that less than 200 tourists visit Namibia who otherwise would not have, due to its sealing policy in order for Namibia and its citizens to be fully compensated.

It is important to understand the information provided by Seal Alert-SA does not relate to a single alleged incident - but instead a whole range of conservation, trade and harvest issues that in fact go back decades of mismanagement - which in our opinion, is a threat to the future survival of this species. The whole reason for CITES existence and hence why it has been reported to you. In addition, Seal Alert-SA intends to use every means at its disposal, including undercover work to continue to investigate this industry until sealing has stopped.

Let us deal primarily with CITES involvement with International Trade; Conservation of Specie - killing of nursing pups; Findings of the 'Review of Significant Trade'; Sustainable harvests and the Current Harvest - ignore all welfare aspects.

International Trade

Taken from the CITES 2004 Animals Committee Meeting

Video evidence of Namibian Sealers in 1993

Correct me if I am wrong. It was acknowledged today by CITES that as per the above chart - no export permits was granted by CITES for any of the above seal products other than those detailed above for the period 1992 - 2002. It was further acknowledged that Cites Secretariat has taken the Cites Animals Committee to task on this. (It should therefore be noted that this in no way removes the fact that Namibia has been in violation of the Cites Convention). Namibian Ministry of Fisheries has stated "sealing regulations require the use of the whole carcass".

Sealing quota for 2006 - is as follows. Namibia Venison & Marine Exporters 38 050 seals. Sealion Products 32 950 and Cape Cross Seals 20 000. In the 1994 - 22 edition of the Fishing Industry Handbook - Namibia Venison & Marine Exporters lists his sealing concession products as producers of carcases and (seal) meal and a processor of seal skins - and in 2002, lists in addition seal oil and seal skin products. Sealion Products lists it simply as seal products.

On the 17th December 1999 owner of Sealion Products, Albert Brink to the Namibian newspaper, "concentrates only on the killing of seals for export of different parts".

Based on the above during the period 1992 - 2002, over 404 479 seal skins were exported (Cites International Trade) on a TAC quota of 467 000 seals. Representing an international trade of 87% on set annual quotas.( it must be noted that sealers have consistently reported being unable to fill their quotas - that it is safe to assume all seal harvests are for International Export and Trade).

Seal Alert-SA was told by a sealer that he could only harvest 80% of his TAC quota in 2005 as their were no more pups to harvest by end of season. From the above table for the period 1989 - 1996 by the Ministry of Fisheries of Namibia. We can see that although Fisheries set a "sustainable TAC" for the period of 258 800 seals - sealers were only able to harvest 173 229 or 67%. This raises serious concerns, namely;

  • The question then arises if these Sealing TAC's are set scientifically and are not detrimental to the survival of the species - why are sealers only able to harvest on average 67% of their quota?
  • Does this in fact mean sealers are in fact killing every pup still alive on these colonies come August or July 1, if so how is this sustainable and not detrimental to the survival of the species?

Namibia has therefore been in serious violation of the CITES Convention of its seal exports involving over 400 000 seal products between 1992 and 2002 - and all the illegal activity in relation to each export infringement of each seal part or product thereof. Cites has no option but to act urgently upon this. Under the Convention a ban on all wildlife trade is appropriate - due to the seriousness of these sustained and continued violations.

clear video evidence between 1993 - 2000 of nursing seal pups being harvested

Conservation of the Species

Future survival of the Cape fur seal, can only be based on sound conservation management. In this regard habitat is equally important as population numbers. Special Scientist at Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) Department of DEAT - South Africa, Dr Jeremy David (formerly in-charge of sealing and seal conservation) stated, "Seals select offshore islands as their preferred breeding sites ....there are also six mainland colonies, five of which have become established only since 1940 .... as a result of exploitation the seal population had been reduced to very low levels by the start of 1900. In fact, at least 23 island colonies had become extinct by then .... seals have only recolonised 3 of them".

According to the Seabirds and Seals Protection Act No.46 of 1973 (South Africa), this legislation was adopted and still in use until 2000 by Namibia. A total of 46 offshore islands are listed, with a total land surface area of 1000 ha (Schedule 1 of the Act). The reality is that these former 23 seal island colonies represent 99% of the total protected island land. Since official population surveys were undertaken in 1972 - 98% of these former breeding seal colonies have remained extinct.

Cape fur seals have lost 98% of their former endemic breeding offshore islands - although these habitats still remain protected.

This fact alone, (loss of 98% of former breeding habitat) should weigh equally with CITES when deciding on the granting of export permits to Namibia. As the conservation or threat to the future survival of the species cannot be simply be based on pup population production numbers alone - Loss of former habitat and its continued extinction has to be considered as well.

At the peak of the seal population in 1992 - 77% of the seal population was found on these six new mainland colonies, of which five is situated in Namibia. Of the five mainland colonies in Namibia - two (the sealing colonies) support a pup production of 75% of the population.

Harvesting of Nursing pups in Birthing, Nursing, Breeding colony

CITES has stated that its convention does not cover aspects of welfare as different countries have different regulations. This however is not applicable in this specific species in Namibia. For the following reasons;

  • Although 90% of the sealing TAC is based on nursing seal pups in South Africa and Namibia (2006 - Iyambo, pups 7 to 9 months harvested) and (2000 - Oelofsen, pups still nursing at 10 months) and which was regulated under the Seabirds and Seals Protection Act in 1973 - the US to which all skins were exported to, banned the import of all seal products in 1972. As it contravened the US MMPA which states that the "taking of a nursing pup" is illegal. This view was further supported by the US Appeal court in 1977.
  • On October 1, 1983, a European Communities Directive binding on all members states came into force. It prohibited the import of the skins, raw or processed, of nursing harp seal pups and nursing hooded pup seals in birthing or breeding grounds.
  • The world's sealing nations of Canada, Norway, Greenland and Russia have all made the "hunting of nursing pups" illegal since 1987. "Marine Mammal regulations prohibit the trade, sale or barter of the fur of these pups, seals cannot be harvested when they are in breeding or birthing grounds".
  • South Africa stopped its sealing policy in 1990.
  • Seal Alert-SA is willing to produce the scientific reason based on the conservation aspect - why this method is detrimental to the future survival of this species.

CITES needs to consider its "convention principles" very carefully in relation to the above. As Namibia now remains the only country and only sealing nation in the world - that ignores the scientific and conservation reasons why nursing pups should not be harvested when "nursing in birthing or breeding colonies". For the following reasons;

  • By granting Namibia these export permits (in which 100% involves nursing pups), CITES is in fact making something that the rest of the world sees as illegal and a threat to the survival of the species - as something that is lawful and not a threat to its survival. This is in direct conflict with its own convention.
  • As a UN Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species - by permitting these exports of (nursing pup skins) CITES is attempting to make something legal - that remains illegal anywhere else in the world, and for which if convicted in most countries including South Africa, would involve a criminal conviction and possible imprisonment.

Based on this - CITES therefore has no option but to immediately stop the issuing of export permits for these skins or seal products to Namibia.

Findings of the 'Review of Significant Trade'

According to your telephone conversation you state that Namibia was placed on a 'Review of Significant Trade' in 2004 - but that the CITES Animal Committee did a review some time later, which found that Namibia's 117 400 exports in 2002 on a recently doubled sealing quota of 60 000 on a 3 year rolling TAC with a sealing season lengthened in 2001, from August to now July 1 - to allow the sealers and I quota, Minister Iyambo "past experience indicates that the season was not long enough for concessionaires to fully harvest their TAC" - was "not detrimental to the survival of the species".

  • CITES is now aware that this further supports our allegations that sealing quotas since independence of Namibia in 1990 has involved killing every seal pup still alive in these sealing colonies - as there is no reason, other than major disturbance in a breeding colony (fleeing) of still nursing pups or no more pups alive, to account for the reason why sealers cannot reach their full TAC. This would be in contravention of CITES.

The above section was copied from the 20th CITES Animals Committee Meeting in 2004 -
relating to the seal population. (I ask you to read it carefully).

I refer to the above, which appeared in the Namibia Brief in January 1998 - written by Namibian Ministry of Fisheries head of Marine Mammal Section, Dr Jean-Paul Roux. There are a number of very disturbing issues which appear to be overlooked by the CITES Animals Committee in 2004.

  • CITES states a 300 000 pup population gives an overall population of 2 million. This is not true. I refer to specialist scientist Dr Jeremy David - "Once the total number of pups in a colony has been estimated, a simple rule of thumb, namely to multiply the number of pups by four, is used to calculate the total number of fur seals at the end of a breeding season". This therefore would only give a total population of 1.2 million - some 40% lower than that suggested.
  • Dr Jean-Paul Roux states that in 1993/94 the pup production was only 200 000, which would give a total population of just 800 000 seals - 60% lower than CITES population claim.
  • CITES states 200 000 died in 1994 (10% of the population) as its only reference to this unnatural mass die-off event. It makes no reference to pups, referring only to 'seals' - a clear distortion of the facts and ignores all mass die-off's references that later occurred.
  • Dr Jean-Paul Roux states 300 000 died in 1994 (38% of the population and the entire cohort of pups 100% born that year). Where by July that year (1994) researchers state less than 5% would survive to weaning age. That in effect means there was just 10 000 pups alive come start of sealing season on August 1.
  • On August 1 - Namibia issues a "sustainable utilization of a living resource under its constitution" sealing TAC of 56 000 pups. This is an impossibility as there was only less than 10 000 pups alive. (The Minister of Fisheries should face charges for this offence).
  • Namibian Sealing Regulations for "pup" - means a seal in its first year of life. (importance of which revealed later)
  • CITES permitted 43 478 seals skins to be exported that year. (Where did the balance of 33 000 seal skins come from?) Why did CITES permit these exports on a harvest that was clearly detrimental to the future survival of the species?
  • Dr Jean-Paul Roux states "In mid-June the average mass of the few surviving pups was just over 8.6kg, nearly 5kg less than the average for the previous seven years (13.6kg on average).
  • To illustrate how illegal CITES was in awarding those export permits in 1994 - is revealed in the Sapanet ANC newsbriefing on the 16 August 1995 - "Sea Lion products manager at the reserve, Philipp Metzger, said pups culled so far this year had 20kg to 25kg less blubber than normal. "It's not enough for them (weened pups) to go swimming far.Fifty per cent of the seals are in good condition. The rest are poor or very poor. They can't survive this year as well." Last year about 500,000 seals died of starvation on the Namibian coastline".
  • The average weight of pups at the time of harvest is no more than 15kg. Therefore based on the comments of sealing manager for Sealion products (one of only two concessionaires). Pups that were culled - could not possible have 20-25kg less blubber, unless they were culling seals that were 2 year old's (in contravention of their sealing regulations and quota - for which they should be charged).
  • CITES should note as per the Sapanet newsbriefing the die-off numbers for 1994 had now swelled to 500 000 according to this press statement - 62% of Namibia's total seal population.
    Dr Jean-Paul Roux article goes on to state - "60% less pups were born in 1995... early pup mortality was the highest recorded since 1987 ... adult females aborted again in 1996... the Namibian population was reduced by one third to one half, this includes a 40% drop in the foraging population and breeding stock in 1993, and the total eradication of two cohorts of pups".
  • CITES ignored all this scientific evidence.
  • Namibia continued to award sealing pup and bull quotas for 1995 of 17 450 pups (even though there was no surviving cohorts of pups) and increased the sealing quota further in 1996 to 20 500 - knowing that there was (a 40% drop in the foraging population and adult females were aborting again).
  • In what can only be considered extreme negligence if not even criminal - CITES allowed exports of 37 019 skins on a quota of 17 450 in 1995, and 42 611 skins on a quota of just 20 500 in 1996.
  • With the failure of CITES to act in 1994, 1995 or 1996 - the two sealing concession holders announced in 1997, in a joint venture with a unnamed foreign concern, their intentions to establish a N$2.5 million seal processing plant and related industries, (although at the time employing less than 40 part-time workers) - they announced their intentions to seek higher culling quotas.
  • In 1997 - Namibia increased the quota 70% from 20 500 to 35 000, even though at the end of sealing season only 85% of the quota of 35 000 or 29 950 pups were able to be harvested. (Which CITES approved once again).
  • In 1998 - Although Namibia maintained the Sealing quota of 35 000 and again in 1999, sealing were only able to export, 16% or 5 880 of the quota and even less, 6% of the quota of just 2 124 in 1999. (There is no as yet explanation for this sudden drop in export demand or whether this reflected the full harvested pup quota).
  • Strangely and perhaps this is conclusive proof of substantial illegal trade in exports, the 30th Edition of the Fishing Industry Handbook 2002, lists Namibia as exporting 30 000 seal skins worth N$3.9 million in 1998, when CITES only approved 5 880, and again exported 25 161 seal skins worth N$3.5 million, when CITES only approved 2 124 in 1999.
  • CITES still failed to act.
  • In 2000 - Namibia announces it is doubling the quota to 60 000 pups and 7000 bulls.
  • In October 2000 - undercover footage obtained by Carte Blanche television and broadcast in 44 African countries, showed that sealers were 'randomly clubbing all age groups of seals' - which is illegal. (Again Namibia or CITES did not act against these violations shown on international television). Nor did it concern itself that once again only 81% of the quota was only able to be harvested, and allowed the export of 48 686 skins.
  • Nor did CITES concern itself that export income in 1999 (prior to the doubled quota) was N$3.5 million for 25 161 skins, that now in fact dropped to just N$ 600 000 for 41 753 skins in 2000. (representing an effective commercial decline per seal skin from N$139 to N$14, a decline in a single year of 90%).

  • As fraudulent, negligible and impossible as it may sound - Namibia Ministry announced exactly one month after sealing season had ended (see above), that it had suffered its worst mass die-off to date, its (4th mass die-off in only the past 7 years) - in a PRESS RELEASE TO THE MEDIA.
  • CITES permitted 48 686 skins to be legally exported and failed to act.
  • If this was not bad enough, one month into the start of the 2001 breeding season - (the Weekend Argus Newspaper carried an article and reported that 90 000 pups had already died and were washing up on Namibian beaches).

  • Unbelievable as it may sound, the Minister of Fisheries in this same year that Namibia's 5th mass-die-off was taking place in only the last 8 years, decided to lengthen the Sealing season, from August to July 1, set a rolling TAC of 60 000. Even though sealers could only harvest 20 654 or 34% of their quota in 2001.
  • CITES approved once again these exports.
  • In 2002, on a 60 000 TAC quota - Namibia exported 117 400 skins, without CITES approval or permits.
  • NOAA US officials seized 5000 raw Cape fur seal skins illegally exported from Namibia.
  • CITES failed to act or request criminal charges be brought against the Namibian sealer involved.
  • In 2003, South Africa arrested and criminally convicted an importer for importing two separate consignments of seal skins from Albert Brink of Sealion Products in Namibia.
    CITES again failed to act.
  • In 2004 - Namibia was placed under a 'Review of Significant Trade' by CITES.

According to the information in your telephone conversation yesterday, you stated the CITES Animals Committee had reviewed Namibia seal exports and could find no detrimental evidence or a threat to the survival of the species. (Please forward a copy of these findings).

  • All the above according to CITES Animals Committee is not detrimental to the survival of the species, nor is the seizure in the US of the illegal exports from Namibia in 2002 or the criminal convictions in 2003 of the South African importer who received illegal exports from Namibia.
  • Neither is the illegal exports of over 400 000 seal products, with which CITES admits there was no export permits for - involving possibly thousands of illegal violations of the CITES convention.

Namibian Fishery Minister Abraham Iyambo

It is the opinion of Seal Alert-SA that CITES Animal Committee and or CITES Management Authority are themselves in serious breach of their own Convention, and as illegal skins have been seized, and as a South African has already been convicted of a criminal offence with possible imprisonment - the Sealers in Namibia, CITES Management in Namibia and CITES Animal Committee members for Africa should face similar criminal charges.

Sustainable Harvesting

Based on all the above I believe that it is both factually and scientifically clear that Namibia has not been engaging in any form of "sustainable harvesting" since its independence in 1990. It is therefore in contravention of its own Constitution and all its exports have been in contravention and violation of CITES. Bearing in mind,

  • 5 mass die-off's in the last 8 years.
  • Sealers failing to reach their full harvest quotas even with lengthened sealing seasons.
  • Namibian Ministry has already stated "sustainable harvests" should not exceed 30% of the pups born.

Current Harvest - 2006 Sealing Season

Without absolutely no sealing data or population trends, except un-official reports that mass die-off's are still occurring, year on year since 2002. It is understandable that over 12 million worldwide seal supporters in over 140 countries are extremely concerned about the developments in Namibia and the management of CITES.

When Seal Alert-SA received brief population trends from Chief Director of Islands in South Africa, Dr Augustyn in late May 2006. It was able to calculate that the 2006, sealing quota of 60 000 (unaware that it had been increased to 85 000), would in fact pose a serious threat to the future survival of this species and be detrimental to its survival. It then pursued every available means to transmit these concerns to South African and Namibian Officials, marine scientists, IFAW, WWF, IUCN, TRAFFIC and others - to date no response has been received. It was forced to go public.

Namibia's 2006 sealing pup quota of 85 000 - on a seal population still 27% lower than pre-1993 levels. Which means in 1993, there was 164 000 pups born on these two sealing colonies (75% of the population), less 27%, gives a pup production for 2006 breeding season of 119 000 - (30% of this should give a 'sustainable' sealing quota of 35 000). Aware that there are continued un-official reports of further mass die-off's, and that under normal conditions Cape fur seal pups suffer a natural mortality of between (25-32%) within the first few weeks from birth. That come July 1 - start of Namibia's sealing season - there would be at best 84 000 seal pups still alive - on a sealing quota of 85 000 - a total seal pup extermination or genocidal culling policy was underway.

Protest in London

Since the 6th July 2006, the media both in South Africa, Namibia and Internationally have carried these headlines, two protests have already been staged outside Namibian High Commissions in South Africa and UK.

Some of the headlines that have appeared in South Africa and in Namibia, have read;

  • Seal culling season sparks new protests.
  • Seal rights group warns Namibia of health risks.
  • International protest against seal cull.
  • Seal clubbing gets flack from world animal groups.
  • IFAW joins protest against seal culling.
  • No better way to cull seals: govt.
  • Namibian seal cull is genocide.
  • Cites asked to act on Namibian seal cull.

Even throughout all this headline news appearing since the 6th of July, and even a "question and answer" media session arranged by the Ministry of Fisheries in Namibia, and even though CITES Animals Committee was meeting in Peru between 7-13 July (which would have presented a perfect opportunity for CITES to intervene) CITES remained silent. Even emails to CITES Animals Committee, CITES Management Authority in Namibia and CITES Secretariat went unanswered, sent on the 9th, 11th, 13th, 24th July and 3rd and 6th August 2006 - (all unanswered and ignored), until my final telephonic contact with John Seller on the 8th of August 2006.

With on-line protest petitions calling for Namibia to stop the 2006 Hunt, supported by over 12 million people worldwide from organizations such as HSUS and its 9.5 million members, Oipa, Peta, IFAW to name just a few. I find it unacceptable, that CITES Secretariat states the following;

The 1st opportunity that CITES can formally address this is during our next Convention of Trade Meeting in October 2006.

This is unacceptable - in light of all the information contained in this email. CITES must, should and has to act now to stop this Namibian Seal Hunt - NOW !

It cannot allow Namibia to proceed with the harvest of 85 000 "living natural protected resources (seals)" in a harvest that is clearly scientifically and factually and unconstitutionally - will be detrimental to the future survival of the species, and threaten its survival - as it cannot permit the "legal" export of these seals, their skins or products - which will then just be discarded as waste.

CITES must act NOW !

For the Seals
Francois Hugo Seal Alert-SA