Namibian seal hunt proceeds despite E.U pelt import ban & only buyer’s attempt to sell out
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2009:
BRUSSELS, WINDHOEK, CAPE TOWN–The European Council of
Ministers on July 28, 2009 voted 24-0 to implement a ban on
importing seal products into the European Union within nine months.
Approved by the European Parlia-ment on May 5, 2009, the
ban will take effect before the next sealing season in Atlantic
Canada, but might not be enforced in all European Union nations
before the end of the 2009 Namibian sealing season.
“The ban was approved without debate,” wrote Constant Brand
of Associated Press, “although Denmark and Romania abstained from
backing the measure, which Ottawa is protesting as an unfair trade
restriction. Austria also abstained because it wanted an even
About a third of the global commerce in seal products moves
through the EU, though the end markets are now believed to be mainly
in Russia and China. The last Russian commercial seal hunt, on the
White Sea, was cancelled in March 2009. Indigenous seal hunts
continue in northern Russia, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, and
are exempted from the EU ban. Norway and Iceland still have small
commercial seal hunts.
The Council of Ministers moved their ratification forward
from the original scheduled date in September to try to close a
window of opportunity during the lag time between approval and
enforcement that appeared to have stimulated the Namibian seal hunt.
Upward of 300,000 harp seals have been killed in recent years off
Atlantic Canada, until 2009, when low pelt prices and anticipation
of the EU ban kept many sealers home.
The Namibian Cape fur seal hunt has never been even a tenth
as big, but the 2009 Namibian seal hunt opened for 139 days in
mid-July with a quota of 85,000 seal pup pelts plus 6,000 pelts from
fur seal bulls.
Seal Alert founder Francois Hugo, of Huot Bay, South
Africa, charged that the Namibian quota was set so high that it
might extirpate fur seals from Namibia. Marine mammalogists not
employed by the Namibian government have warned for nearly 20 years
that declining fish stocks, shifting ocean currents, and aggressive
sealing plus random shooting by frustrated fishers have depleted the
fur seal population. The Namibian government asserts that the
population is not at risk.
Namibian sealers killed only 23,000 seals before halting the
2008 hunt because they could find no more to kill.
The sole buyer of Namibian seal pelts and oil since 2007 has
been Turkish furrier Hatem Yavuz, who also operates in Australia,
Russia, and South Africa. The current scale of Yavuz’s business is
difficult to estimate. Standard references indicate that as recently
as 2001 Yavuz had under $1 million in sales, with fewer than 10
Yavuz reportedly failed to sell most of the Namibian seal
pelts and oil he bought in 2008. The start of the 2009 hunt was
postponed for two weeks after Yavuz offered to sell his purchasing
rights to Hugo for $14 million, markedly more the estimated value of
the hunt based on 2008 prices paid for seal products. The Namibian
government has claimed that the hunt generates $625,000 per year.
Yavuz said he had exclusive rights to buy Namibian seal products
Hugo spent about six weeks attempting to raise the $14
million through online appeals, against the recommendation of other
animal charities, whose positions he frequently criticized. Hugo
later ripped the Namibian SPCA for not prosecuting sealers for
cruelty. As off Atlantic Canada, the Namibian government keeps
observers away from the seal rookeries, thwarting the opportunity
for humane inspectors to link individual sealers to specific illegal
acts. This very problem motivated then-New Brunswick SPCA inspector
Brian Davies to found the Save the Seals Fund in 1960, which became
the International Fund for Animal Welfare in 1968.
A Namibian court on July 17, 2009 convicted Jim Wickens of
the British organization Ecostorm, and Bart Smithers, a South
African videographer, of “entering a marine reserve without
authorization.” Wickens and Smithers were fined $1,245 each. They
were mobbed and beaten by sealers the preceding day while documenting
the hunt for the Dutch anti-fur organization Bont voor Dieren.
Photographer Neil Herman, working for Seal Alert, was
detained on August 4, 2009 for allegedly taking pictures of a seal
pelt processing facility at Henties Bay.