​'Nail in coffin for Norwegian seal hunting': Govt cuts subsidies

​'Nail in coffin for Norwegian seal hunting': Govt cuts subsidies
Norway has cut a 12 million kroner ($1.8 million) subsidy for seal hunting from next year’s budget. Environmentalists have applauded the move. Some businesses say it is putting an end to a historical and eco-friendly practice.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries say stripping the seal industry of subsidy has been dictated by “economic priorities.” The government is aware of how vital the financial support has been for the business.

“Seal hunting businesses are run by 80 percent subsidies,” State Secretary Amund Ringdal of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries told the Norwegian news agency NTB.

“When they are removed, the consequences will clearly be big. But we cannot say whether it's the final nail in the coffin for Norwegian seal hunting.”

The opposition has criticized the government for yielding to pressure from the EU.

“In reality the government gave in to pressure from extreme animal rights organizations and the EU, and did not have an understanding of the historical roots of seal hunting and its role in the management of ecosystems,” Geir Pollestad, of the Centre Party said.

Seal hunting supporters argue there’s a need for limiting the seal population to keep the Norwegian ecosystem balanced. Fishing businesses argue that the end to the seal hunting business could have a negative impact on their industry as well.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) activists stage a demonstration against the seal hunting in front of the World Trade Organization (WTO) headquaters on February 18, 2013 in Geneva. (AFP Photo / Fabrice Coffrini)

“We do not accept the government proposal to take away government support for sealing overnight without discussing such a dramatic step with business organizations,” Audun Marak, Managing Director of the Fishing Vessel Owners' Association said in a statement.

Supporters of abolishing the subsidy argue seal hunting has already shrunk due to a 2009 EU ban on seal product imports. In 2014, an estimated 11,980 seals were caught by only three Norwegian boats.

Environment groups believe the hunt is not influencing the overall seal population and if the business ceases to exist, it’s not going to affect the environment.

“The seal hunting subsidies are a typical example of tax payers' money being used in a meaningless way,” Siri Martinsen from NOAH animal rights group told NTB. “One has paid for the seals to be killed, paid for their skin to be sold, and in some cases also paid for their skin to be destroyed.”

Seal hunting nations including Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Russia have in the recent years come under strong pressure from environmentalist groups calling for a ban of the practice.

Russia banned baby seal hunting in 2009, following mass protests in the country inspired by online videos which showed baby seals being clubbed to death by hunters.

In 2011 Russia followed the EU in banning imports of seal products.

Canada and Norway in 2013 appealed to the World Trade Organization to overturn the EU ban on seal products. The WTO Appellate Body however upheld the ban in May 2014.