Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic
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Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic

Edited by Leif Christian Jensen and Geir Hønneland

The Arctic has again become one of the leading issues on the international foreign policy agenda, in a manner unseen since the Cold War. Drawing on the perspectives of geo-politics and international law, this Handbook offers fresh insights and perspectives on the most pressing issues, grouped under the headings of political ascendancy, climate and environmental issues, resources and energy, and the response and policies of affected countries.
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Chapter 9: Arctic marine mammals in international environmental law and trade law

Nigel Bankes and Elizabeth Whitsitt


The harvesting of marine mammals is an important part of the culture and way of life of many indigenous peoples in the circumpolar Arctic. Non-indigenous people and communities harvest seals in some Arctic states. These practices have become increasingly controversial in recent decades. Many argue against a continued harvest on ethical grounds. In some cases, the ethical argument is based on the proposition that marine mammals are sentient beings and should not be forced to endure suffering and pain. In other cases, the ethical argument is the more far-reaching Kantian one, that humans have no right to use species of marine mammals to meet their own needs. Those opposed to the harvest of marine mammals have employed a range of strategies to champion their cause, including making films of harvesting activities, securing the endorsement of high-profile media figures and the picketing of those seen to be using the products of marine mammals such as sealskin. There may also be efforts to interrupt the harvest, either on the ice or by intercepting vessels engaged in the harvest – sometimes resulting in dangerous confrontations. In addition to such direct action, those opposed may also lobby for the adoption of new and amended domestic and international laws (including trade laws), as well as the more vigorous application of existing laws to limit harvesting activities. Indigenous and coastal communities have frequently opposed such measures on the grounds that these measures threaten the economic well-being of their communities and their culture and way of life.

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