Canadian Sealing: History
The Canadian seal hunt is the most closely watched and restricted animal hunt on the planet. Seals off Canada’s east coast have been culled for hundred’s of years for food, clothing and seal oil.
Historical evidence suggests that seals were hunted as far back as 3 000 years ago in areas that are now part of Canada. Centuries later, European contact and settlement in the New World not only sustained, but expanded the seal hunt.
Jacques Cartier noted that seals were hunted in the Newfoundland and Labrador region in the early 16th century. By the end of the 16th century, demand for clothing and materials comprised of seal fur in Europe ensured that the Canadian seal hunt would continue and prosper. However, the commercial seal hunt in Canada did not officially begin until the 17th century.
The Canadian seal hunt flourished throughout the 16th and 17th century but made significant economic gains in the 18th century when the Hudson’s Bay Company began trading for seal skins. Within 70 years of HBC influence on the seal industry, Newfoundland’s attributed 1/3 of its exports to seal. In fact, the economic gains in Newfoundland helped encourage permanent settlement in the region.
Exporting seal oil to Britain and throughout its empire was the primary reason for the commercial seal hunt in the 18th century. Seal oil was also used for a multitude of reasons ranging from cooking and fuel oils to soap production.
Canadian Sealing Now
The annual Canadian seal hunt still exists but significant differences can be witnessed. In 1971, the Government of Canada introduced quota management to ensure seal populations do not deplete to the point of extinction.
International reactions to the Canadian seal hunt are varied. Many countries continue to import goods derived from seal. Conversely, American and European reaction to the Canadian seal hunt has been negative at best. An American ban on anything derived from seals in the 1970s was followed by a European ban on whitecoat and blueback seal harvests. Seal oil is still sold in the European Union.
In 1987, the Government of Canada reacted to the European ban by issuing a Canadian ban on the commercial harvesting of whitecoats and bluebacks. Each ensuing year resulted in government quotas designed to control hunting and maintain stable seal populations off the Canadian coast.
Current harp seal populations are estimated at over 5.5 million – three times higher than the harp seal population of the 1970s.
Canadian Sealing: Economics
The socio-economic benefits of sealing on Canada’s east coast are numerous. Sealing has been a tradition and profession passed on from generation to generation in the Maritimes for centuries. Currently, over 5 000 Canadians and their families rely on the annual seal hunt for a portion of their income. Some sealers have reported that up to 35% of their annual income is acquired from sealing.
In 2005, the Government of Canada recorded a value of $16.5 million as a result of the annual seal hunt. In Newfoundland and Labrador alone, seals are the fifth largest harvest.
European bans on the harvesting of whitecoats and bluebacks in the early 1980s resulted in dramatic income losses to Inuit’s in Newfoundland and Labrador. As a direct result of the European ban, many Inuit’s lost as much as 1/3 of their income.
Many Canadians are employed as a result of the annual seal hunt in Canada. Processing and refining facilities in the Maritimes and Quebec employ hundreds of workers. These facilities prepare seal pelts for tanning to create clothing.
Other facilities render seal blubber to extract a natural, purified source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are deemed “essential” by scientists, health care professionals and international organizations. Seal oil is extracted and sold in capsule and liquid form as a health supplement.
The Government of Canada encourages the full use of seals. Maximum usage of seals is ensured by rendering and selling seal oil, clothes and meat.
Canadian Sealing: Ethics
The Government of Canada is committed to a humane, closely monitored seal hunt. In the same respect, the Government of Canada is also committed to the employment of its citizens. The annual Canadian seal hunt provides jobs to thousands of families on Canada’s east coast and throughout the country. The seal hunt also provides much needed financial gains to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Through government led and independent initiatives, some conclusions have been made about the Canadian seal hunt:
- The seal hunt is sustainable
- Harp seal population: 5.5 million
- Roughly 325 000 seals were hunted in 2006
- Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing (RCSS) deemed the methods used to hunt seals are as humane as the hunting of any other wild animal
- Canadian Veterinary Journal confirmed RCSS findings. In 2002, the Canadian Veterinary Journal declared that over 95% of seals are hunted in a humane manner
- Hunting Methods: high power rifle, shotguns and hakipaks
- All are used to hunt seals quickly
- Before receiving a license to hunt seals, first-time sealers must be supervised by a sealer with 2 years experience
- Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) works closely with sealers to ensure that all regulations are abided
- Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) places strict management measures to ensure the seal population is sustainable
- Whitecoats and bluebacks: many anti-sealing organizations and websites use the image of a whitecoat and / or blueback to obtain support to stop the seal hunt in Canada
- Reality: whitecoats and bluebacks have not been hunted for 20 years
- Usage: full use of hunted seals for goods (oil, clothing, meat, etc)
- Department of Fisheries and Oceans does NOT subsidize the seal hunt
- All facilities distributing seal based products must be licensed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and all products must be deemed safe in accordance with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).
- Omega-3 seal oil products must seek Natural Health Products Directorate (NHP) approval for sale in Canada
The annual Canadian seal hunt is an economically sound, sustainable hunt of a natural resource closely monitored by the Government of Canada as well as independent organizations.