You have to think long and hard to remember the last time activists south of the border boycotted a made-in-Canada enterprise. But get ready for it - Yankee animal rights activists are taking aim at our $3-billion-a-year fish industry.
Last week, the Humane Society of the United States, Environment Voters and the Animal Protection Institute were among key international lobbyists at a two-day meeting in T.O. to map out an aggressive campaign against Newfoundland's seal hunt.
"We'll be asking Americans, particularly in the northeast, and Europeans to avoid buying Canadian seafood products so they can bring the price of seafood down low enough that it forces the Canadian government to end the commercial hunt,' says Barry Kent MacKay, Canadian rep for the Animal Protection Institute.
That's gotta hurt. According to Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada, the U.S. remains the most important market for Canada's fish and seafood exports. About 75 per cent of our fish heads south: lobster, snow crab, fresh and frozen shellfish and farmed Atlantic salmon. And come April, a new piece of U.S. legislation will allow Americans to easily identify the country of origin of their omega-3 edibles.
While industry reps argue that banning the seal hunt would devastate fishers living in remote areas of Newfoundland, activists respond that profits from the hunt total less than 0.5 per cent of the province's GNP and only 2 per cent of the value of the fishery. (Seals are killed for their pelts, their penises used as aphrodisiacs and their meat and oil in health supplements.)
Says Christiane Parcigneau of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, "A boycott would be really unfortunate, but we believe people have a right to their opinions.' The harp seal population, she says, has tripled since the 70s, and "the bottom line is that the hunt is a sustainable fishery and done in a safe and humane manner."
But MacKay retorts, "There's no way to know how that quota is enforced. If you shoot [into a seal herd], a lot of them will be wounded and go into the water. Then they are stuck under the ice and don't get counted."
Next step? Get the word out about the boycott, says MacKay. "It's been called blackmail, but fine - it's hardball. It's taken us decades and decades to find out that nothing else will work.'