Seals have been harvested for food, fuel, clothing and other products for hundreds of years. Over time, the use and market for seal products has evolved considerably.
Seal Products in Canada
The economic value of seal products to the Canadian economy begins with what is called the ‘landed value’ of the harvest. Quite simply, this is the pre-processed value of the harvest to the harvesters. In 2006, the total landed value of the seal harvest was C$34.3 million. This was an historic high value that had a trickle down effect in other sectors of the economy.
Sealskin garments, including coats, boots, mittens and leather items, are both warm and waterproof, making them practical and prized in Canada’s harsh Northern regions. Sealskin is a natural product of a sustainable harvest of natural resources.
Seal meat constitutes an important part of the Inuit diet and is also a traditional food
in many Atlantic coastal communities. Flipper pie is a traditional favourite in Newfoundland and Labrador. Seal meat is also increasingly featured in restaurants, especially in Quebec, and has been showcased on the menu of the Parliamentary Restaurant.
Seal oil continues to be used for fuel in Northern and Inuit communities and is also found in Omega 3 health products, which are marketed in Canada under various brand names.
Seal Products in the International Market
For decades, Canada has been the largest global exporter of seal products. Uncertainty in global markets, including the recession and market access restrictions, such as the European Union (EU) seal products ban has had an impact on exports in recent years. Canada is currently challenging the EU ban through the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement process.
Despite the challenges, export statistics demonstrate that there is global demand for seal products. Between 2005 and 2011, Canada exported over $70 million (US) worth of seal products to more than 35 countries, including seal pelts, value-added garments, and edible seal products (oil and meat).
Expanding and maintaining access to markets is of paramount importance for exporting countries such as Canada. As a member of the World Trade Organization, Canada supports a rules-based global trading system and believes that consumers should have the opportunity to make their own informed purchasing decisions. The imposition of bans or restrictions on seal products creates a dangerous precedent for other products which are traded globally
Sustainable Use and the Future of Canadian Seal Products
Canada’s position on the conservation of seals is consistent with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s principle of the sustainable use of natural resources. This principle notes the balance between conserving biodiversity and the opportunity to derive economic, social and cultural benefit in a sustainable manner.
Canada monitors the seal harvest closely and enforces seal harvest regulations to the fullest extent of the law. The seal populations in Canada are monitored and harvest levels are adjusted as needed, based on scientific surveys and estimation of seal populations.
Canada strongly believes in fair and open trade and the right to harvest its resources, including living marine resources, in a sustainable manner.