Thousands of restaurants and grocery stores across the U.S. are boycotting some or all Canadian seafood, promising not to purchase seafood from Canada until the annual seal hunt is stopped.
“I don’t like to get in the way of peoples’ choices very often, but this isn’t a matter of Inuit people eating seals. This is a matter of the government subsidizing a slaughter,” said Smith, who was approached by the Humane Society a year-and-a-half ago.
"It’s not to stop it 100 percent necessarily, if it’s a source for food," Smith said. "But it seems like it’s an out of control situation."
Chandler's Crabhouse, Daniel's Broiler, Duke's and Elliotts Oyster House are also participating in the boycott.
For years, the Humane Society has been working to end the seal “harvest," what they say is one of the largest slaughters of marine mammals on the planet.
[VIDEO: Canada's 2013 seal hunt begins - WARNING: Contains graphic images]
Though the Canadian government says the seals that are harvested are "self-reliant, independent animals," the Humane Society says the vast majority of them are defenseless pups younger than 3 months old that are killed primarily for their fur.
Celebrities who have spoken out against the seal hunt include Paul McCartney and Ke$ha, as well as “Top Chef” stars Richard Blais, Carla Hall and Jamie Lauren, and Chef Brian Malarkey of “The Taste.”
“The harp seal slaughter has gone on for far too long, and I’m going to do my part as a chef to put an end to this senseless killing," Malarkey said. "I had a ‘Save the Seals T-Shirt’ as a 5-year-old boy, and I can’t even for the life of me understand why something so horrible still goes on in this current age."
Sealers use guns, wooden clubs and hakapiks (ice-pick-like clubs) to kill the animals as they lay on ice floes.
Rebecca Aldworth, Executive Director of Humane Society International Canada says the seal hunt is inherently inhumane.
“It’s not that seal hunters are these evil people that want to inflict pain on animals," she said. "They are operating in an environment that doesn’t allow them to be consistent.”
“Seal pups are very agile. The sea ice itself is moving, so accuracy in clubbing and shooting is compromised,” she said. “Sealers cannot consistently kill the animals in a humane way because of the conditions they are operating under.”
Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans says sealing is no less humane than a commercial slaughterhouse, which the public readily accepts, and they say the industry is closely monitored.
DFO says fishermen depend on the hunt for their economic survival, and the Government of Canada remains unequivocal in its support for the sealing industry. In fact, last month, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador provided $3.6 million is subsidies to the sealers.
“We remain committed to supporting jobs and growth, which includes the economic benefits to northern and coastal regions of the country provided by the sealing industry,” spokesman Frank Stanek said.
But the Humane Society says promoting those areas as ecotourism sites would be far more lucrative than the annual harvest.
“This is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on the planet,” said Aldworth. “This is a huge opportunity to develop this.”
“Seal watching brings in more money than the seal hunt - seals bring in more money alive than dead.”
The Humane Society says the chefs and grocery stores participating in the boycott are sending a clear message to Canada: "We won’t buy while seals die."
Chef Smith, who opened the award-winning Cafe Juanita in 2000, says she hopes the boycott will raise awareness and encourage Canadian officials to change policy.
“I signed on because from everything I’ve read it seemed like a poorly managed slaughter that is primarily for fur,” she said.
Smith's Cafe Juanita is one of 60 restaurants in Washington that are participating in "Chefs for Seals."
- Search for “seal friendly” restaurants and grocery stores by current location, name, ZIP code and more
- Share seal friendly establishments with your friends
- Use tools to recruit your favorite restaurant or grocery store to join the boycott
- Take action on important issues related to ending Canada’s seal hunt
There is also an online Protect Seals restaurant locator, so you can search for a restaurant that is participating in the boycott.