Canada’s seal industry once worth millions annually brought in only thousands in 2021.
“In 2021, we are recording export of a value of approximately $275,000 which was mainly seal oil and fats to Asian markets,” said Jordan Reeves, director general of trade at the Department of Foreign Affairs, according to Blacklocks Reporter. He was testifying to the Senate fisheries committee on Nov. 24.
By contrast, the Atlantic market was worth $34.3 million in 2006, including $18 million in fur exports, according to Blacklocks. Reeves said Canada has only exported $6,000 worth of furs in the past four years.
Senator Jane Cordy of Nova Scotia said: “We all know that the seal population is exploding and that hungry seals eat lots of fish so it creates a problem.”
Animal rights organizations have long spoken out against the seal hunt, and a 2009 European Union export ban especially hit the industry. The Humane Society states on its website, “Canada’s annual commercial seal hunt is the largest slaughter of marine mammals on the planet.” Its criticisms include that the seals are usually pups and “each killing method is demonstrably cruel.”
The seals are killed with clubs or shot, though the Humane Society says seal hunters don’t want to ruin the pelts with bullets so they will often leave wounded seals to die.
Yet the impact of a growing seal population on local fish supplies is a problem that was raised at both the Senate hearing and at a seal industry summit earlier this month. Summit attendees told Saltwire that science was a big focus. Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray made a commitment during the summit to fund third-party science to examine the impact on the ecosystem of hunting—or not hunting—seals.
A recent Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) report attempts to quantify the reduction in the seal population that would be needed to allow the cod population to recover. Winter skate and white hake fish populations are also impacted by the seals. “It is not possible to specify a level of reduction that would be necessary or sufficient to reverse the cod decline,” the report states. But it does give examples of different models that try to predict that.
In one model, the total elimination of seals would not be enough for the cod population to recover. In another model, 70 percent of seals (about 31,000) would need to be culled in the southern Gulf area to allow cod to recover.
Seals not only eat the fish, but also transmit a parasite called larval sealworm, which makes the fish less marketable, DFO reports.
At the recent Senate fisheries committee meeting, Liberal MP Yvonne Jones said: “Foreign governments and well-funded activist groups from away and at home in Canada have dealt a significant blow to this industry over the years and created a terrible image of the Canadian seal harvest. We have an obligation to make things right.”
Reeves of Foreign Affairs reported that a certification of seal oil for sale to Taiwan could boost the industry back up into the millions. “This could be worth about $2 million in exports a year,” he said, according to Blacklocks Reporter. “The certificate is being finalized right now.”