The Humane Society of the United States held a glitzy party in San Francisco this week to announce the latest weapon in its war against Canada's seal hunt – an iPhone app that points users to restaurants and stores that are participating in a boycott of Canadian seafood.
"By putting out this app we are really ramping up our campaign and it's going to be another way for the fishing industry in Canada to really get a sense of the scale and the scope of the boycott and how it has affected them," Gabriel Wildgen, a Humane Society spokesman, said Friday.
The group caused barely a ripple on this side of the border when it first launched the boycott seven years ago to put pressure on the federal government. Canadian seafood exports actually went up.
But, since 2005, the Human Society has increased to more than 5,500 the number of stores and eateries that refuse to sell Canadian seafood and enlisted celebrities like Iron Chef Cat Cora to its cause. The event in California this week began with a photo shoot by Nigel Barker, the star photographer of the television show America's Next Top Model.
Mr. Wildgen's group wants the government of Canada to buy out the remaining sealing licences and to put an end to an industry that has been in decline for a number of years as markets have been shut down.
There are no full-time sealers in Canada, Mr. Wildgen said, just fishermen who are making declining amounts of additional income each year by participating in the seal hunt. The Humane Society argues that buying out their licences would give them some seed money to start new sustainable businesses such as seal watching.
But Frank Pinhorn, executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association, says "the sealing industry is not for sale."
There are nine million harp seals on the East Coast and their numbers will increase by 1.6 million in the next 10 to 15 days when this year's pups are born, Mr. Pinhorn said. Each seal, he said, consumes 1.4 tonnes of fish a year. "The numbers have to be brought down."
Meanwhile, Patrick McGuinness, president of the Fisheries Council of Canada, says he doesn't understand why his industry is being targeted by a boycott aimed at sealers.
And a spokeswoman for federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield said the Humane Society's actions were nothing more than old tricks by anti-sealing activists. "The U.S. Center for Consumer Freedom questioned the credibility of that campaign," she said, "contending that 78 per cent of the companies and restaurants on the boycott list it contacted were not actively participating in the boycott and many were unaware they were on the list."
Mr. Wildgen counters that his group has done its own polling, which indicated that more than 80 per cent of sealers are aware of the boycott and are concerned, and more than 50 per cent have felt the effects of it.
As to the suggestion that seals must be culled to protect the fishing industry, Mr. Wildgen said that is a common misconception.
"There is a lot of good scientific evidence out there that seals are not harmful to cod stocks and fishing stocks," he said, "and, in fact, by trying to disrupt the very delicate ecosystems of which the seals are a part, it could very well be reducing the amount of cod available to fishermen."