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Monday, July 20, 2009

The Huffington Post has an interesting article on baby seal clubbing in Namibia. Hunters in the annual commercial seal hunt are expected to club approximately 90,000 seals (representing a little over 10% of the country's seal population of 850,000). The article states:

Namibia is one of only a few remaining countries with a commercial seal harvest. The government argues that the seal population needs to be controlled to protect fish stocks....The government has said seals consume 900,000 tons of fish each year, more than a third of the fishing industry's catch, and that the cull is needed to protect fisheries.

Two interesting points are raised in this article (amusingly titled "Seal Sorrow").

First, there are two instances of how the natural market forces of supply and demand influence the seal clubbing industry around the world:
  1. Due to the economic recession and changing consumer tastes, hunters in Canada clubbed less than one-third of their alloted quota. Without adequate demand for seal products, less seals will be hunted each year. This involves economic considerations and cultural preferences - NOT government mandates. It is not the proper role of government to legislate morality.
  2. In Namibia, seals are clubbed because they threaten an important human food supply. The real problem here is not the seals but rather the lack of fish. Fishery populations are declining around the world from the over-harvesting that occurs under traditional systems. In the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has proposed instituting individual fishing quotas (IFQs), which gives fishers an incentive to increase the size of their resource. Reason Magazine previously covered and supported similar IFQ systems that have prospered in New Zealand, showing the effectiveness of private sector ownership as an incentive.
The second notable point from the article is the response by animal activists. Some groups continue to work through governments to try to ban the industry and their products. However, they have only succeeded in making felons out of hunters and creating black markets for their goods. Other activists, like Francois Hugo of Seal Alert South Africa, have taken a more practical approach. Hugo effectively delayed Namibia's seal hunt by one week after his failed attempt to purchase the company that purchases the Namibian seal products. While another company would have seen the opportunity to gain a large market share as a result, this at least represents a private sector approach to the cause.

Posted by Eleutherian

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