The Economics of Ending Canada’s Commercial Harp Seal Hunt
The roots of the Canadian harp seal hunt can be traced to the 16th Century. But in the mid-20th century, opposition to the commercial hunt became widespread after television images of seal pups being killed with clubs on the pack ice off the coast of Newfoundland were broadcast around the world. International conservation groups, animal welfare groups, animal rights groups, and foreign governments have been calling for the Canadian government to end the commercial seal hunt on the grounds that it is inhumane and that harvest levels are unsustainable. The Canadian government defends the traditional practices of hunting harp seals, argues that seal pelts are an important source of income for sealers, and insists that the killing methods are humane and that harvest levels are sustainable. Emotions run high on both sides of the debate. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate whether or not there is a purely economic argument for ending Canada’s commercial seal hunt. The paper finds that the benefits of ending the commercial hunt exceed the costs, but not unequivocally. However, the paper argues there should be a higher criterion - the Pareto criterion - for ending the commercial hunt; that is the hunt should end only if winners compensate the losers. The paper goes on to argue that an effective way to satisfy this criterion is to introduce a system of individual transferable quotas (ITQs) and let the market reveal the value of the commercial seal hunt. In addition to many other advantages such as improving the safety and efficiency of the hunt, the ITQ market could provide a mechanism by which those willing to pay to end the hunt could do so directly to sealers thereby ensuring that the hunt is scaled back or ultimately ended only when it is economically efficient and unambiguously welfare-improving.
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