The annual culling of thousands of Cape fur seal pups will start next month and animal rights groups are calling on Namibia to stop the barbaric killings and rather make money from the animals’ tourism potential.
“Countries in the southern hemisphere, having changed their policy from seal culling to seal-focused ecotourism, now enjoy the revenue generated from over 1,3 million seal-viewing tourists who generated revenue exceeding US$250 million (about N$1,9 billion),” says Francois Hugo of the organisation Seal Alert in South Africa.
Hugo believes seal-focused ecotourism in Namibia would generate four times more revenue than seal culls. “Using the seals for tourism through sightseeing and boat trips would be far more sustainable, would create no negative international image, and provide year-round employment,” particularly at Cape Cross, Namibia’s largest seal colony.
In Namibia the culling season is from July to November. About 85 000 seal pups and 6 000 bulls are killed.
The pups are clobbered to death with wooden clubs and the bulls are shot. At Cape Cross the killings take place form early in the morning until around 09h00, before tourists are allowed in to view the seal colony.
“Seal Alert SA calls upon the new Fisheries Minister to accept the realities of the situation and announce an end to its seal cull policy, and replace this with increased calls for seal protection and new investment in seal-focused ecotourism industry, which is one of the fastest growing industries in the tourism sector.”
According to Hugo, the culling has increased seal populations in Namibia rather than reducing them.
He further claims that Namibia has not produced “a single study which supports the effectiveness of seal culling in benefiting the fisheries or reducing the seal population”.
“Namibia’s attempts at managing, reducing or controlling the growth of the seal population for the benefit of commercial fisheries via annual culls of seal pups has failed,” Hugo said in a statement this week.
“Of the 40 seal colonies all growth in the last four decades has come directly from the growth in those colonies targeted for culling or reducing the seal population, and these four have become the largest seal colonies and now represent over 70 per cent of the seal population,” he says.
South Africa realised this two decades ago when it ended its seal culling, and has since seen no further growth in seal populations. Likewise, other fishing countries in the southern hemisphere – Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru and Argentina – have all stopped commercial sealing and adopted instead seal-focused ecotourism as its preferred use of the seal resource, Hugo added.
Namibia is the only country in the southern hemisphere still culling seals.
The European Union (EU) last year banned all imports of seal products. Total import bans on all seal products are now also in effect in the US, Mexico and South Africa.
Both Canada and Russia stopped and banned the practice of killing seal pups still nursing or less than one year of age.
The consumption of fish by seals has been found to have caused less than 0,3 per cent losses to commercial fisheries, Seal Alert SA said.
“The thought that culling a million fish-eating seals will make more fish available is completely false. There is simply no way of knowing whether the fish saved by culling the seals will still be available to commercial fisheries, or whether these fish will be eaten by other fish or marine predators like whales, dolphins, seabirds or sharks,” argued Hugo in the statement.
“Seal pup quotas, which have increased from 17 000 seal pups prior to Independence to a now unsustainable 85 000 seal pups, have reached a point where two seal rights holders, with sealing rights to kill altogether one million seal pups until 2019, cannot fill their quotas averaging less than 60 per cent, even with extension of the sealing season,” the animal rights activist said.
Seal pup survivability has dramatically decreased in recent years as global conditions and fish stocks have declined. Now many seal pups do not survive to fish-catching or weaning age, according to Hugo.
The seal pup quota in Namibia “has been unsustainable when natural mortality and mass die-offs are taken into account. This in itself conflicts with the Namibian Constitution,” according to Hugo.
The Constitution stipulates that Namibia’s natural resources should be sustainably utilised.