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Government Response to the Thirteenth Report on Sealing Issues of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends the formation of a panel of eminent persons, similar to the Independent Review Panel on Northern Cod (the "Harris Report"). The purpose of the panel would be to evaluate the current state of scientific knowledge and to provide advice on a long-term strategy for the management of seal populations.

The panel must develop a five-year strategic reduction and utilization plan and report on items, including but not necessarily limited to the following:

  • scientific methodologies for estimating seal populations;
  • scientific methodologies for estimating the total magnitude of the hunt including unreported losses and best estimates of the long-term impact of the hunt on seal populations;
  • the current state of knowledge about the diet of seals and the impact of seal consumption on cod and other commercial fish stocks and to provide advice on directions for improving the state of scientific knowledge in this regard; and
  • the optimum size of the harp seal population in terms of its interaction with the ecosystem in general and with commercial fish stocks in particular and guidance with respect to management of the harp seal herd in order that such a population size can be achieved.

Government Response

The Government accepts the Committee’s recommendation to establish a panel of eminent persons to provide advice on a long-term strategy for the management of seal populations. The panel will report to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. It is initially expected that the panel will be asked to consider the Committee’s findings and report by the fall of 2000 so that their advice can be considered in the development of the seals management plan for 2001.

Recommendation 2

The Committee recommends that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans conduct both experimental harvests and experimental seal exclusion zones. These should include 2J3KL (Northern cod) fishery, the 4TVn (southern Gulf of St. Lawrence cod) fishery, and the 4RS3Pn (northern Gulf cod) fishery and others as deemed necessary for the purpose of preventing the expansion of seals into the fishery, designated bay, or area. This measure is designed to protect spawning and juvenile cod concentrations and prevent seals from inflicting high mortality.

Government Response

The Government is considering the establishment of exclusion zones and an experimental harvest but is not prepared to undertake measures that could not be supported by solid scientific data and objectives. To explore these initiatives to their fullest extent, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans will refer both proposals to the panel (as described in Recommendation 1) for study and advice.

Recommendation 3

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans must define all seal populations in northern and eastern Canadian waters, specifically ringed and hooded seals, so that the Department can give responsible support to Canada’s vital sealing industry, while protecting seal populations and the integrity of the ecosystems in which they live.

Government Response

Significant funding ($440,000 for 1998/99 and 1999/00) has been redirected to assessments of the stock status of harp seals and related biological studies on Canada’s sealing industry.

Information on most eastern and northern seal populations is fairly well known, although there are areas where additional work is needed.

Genetic work aimed at separating populations of hooded seals in the Canadian Atlantic region is being undertaken, and satellite tagging of these animals is feasible. Discussions are underway with Greenland scientists on a possible joint tagging program to better define movements and stock boundaries.

A study of Arctic ringed seals has confirmed the existence of several distinct groups based on growth data and, along with the existence of geographic barriers, population boundaries can be defined (e.g. Hudson’s Bay, Baffin Island/Davis Strait, Arctic archipelago). Ringed seal population structure in Labrador and harbour seal population structure in the Canadian Atlantic is less well known.

Stock assessment work has concentrated on species for which there is significant commercial interest: harp, hooded, and grey seals. An aerial survey of harp seals was conducted in 1999 and results will assist in devising new population estimates in early 2000. While this survey had been initially planned for 1998, adverse ice conditions delayed the study until this year. An aerial survey of grey seals is planned for 2000.

For ringed seals, a sampling program has begun in Hudson’s Bay, in cooperation with the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, in response to a suspected population decline. Ringed seals are a critical prey item for polar bears in the North so any proposal for a commercial harvest of this species would have to take into account the potential impact on polar bear abundance and harvests.

Recommendation 4

Further, the accumulated knowledge and observation of those who have traditionally lived along Canada’s northern and eastern seacoast and who rely upon its wildlife for survival should complement and strengthen modern science. Accordingly, the Department’s research efforts and recommendations must include both traditional and community knowledge.

Government Response

The Government agrees and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has for some years ensured that local and traditional knowledge is brought into its stock assessments, including seal assessments. Most of the Department’s work in seal assessment in the North is carried out in close collaboration with, and with significant funding from, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board or the Fisheries Joint Management Committee under land claims agreements. As such, the work must be approved by local hunters and trappers organizations, which contribute their knowledge to the study and assessment. Many studies of seal biology or population dynamics begin with the acquisition of traditional knowledge. For example, traditional knowledge is being included in the sampling program for ringed seals in Hudson’s Bay (see Recommendation 3).

In Canada’s Atlantic, a seal collector program (under which local hunters are contracted to provide biological samples) keeps DFO in contact with coastal hunters with good local knowledge of seals. Contacts with collectors allowed DFO researchers to learn about "belly-biting" behaviour by seals some time before this became widely known. (The term belly-biting refers to seals biting chunks, often the liver, out of a fish, leaving the dead fish to disintegrate.) Knowledgeable individuals from the hunter community and industry participated in the meeting of the National Marine Mammal Peer Review Committee in February 1999, in which population estimates of harp and grey seals were reviewed.

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, in an effort to increase its presence within the fishing communities, ensure that its scientists go into the field and make first-hand observations of anomalous behaviour by seals or fish, when such behaviour is brought to their attention.

Government Response

The Government agrees with the Committee. Scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans would be unable to fulfill their professional responsibilities if they did not spend significant time in the field. Seal scientists and technicians typically spend up to three months of the year in the field making direct observations. Every effort is made to respond to reports of interesting or anomalous behaviour. However, it must be acknowledged that such activities must be worked into an already demanding schedule of fieldwork, laboratory analysis, reporting, and meetings and consultations.

In early 1999, it was reported in the media that, despite requests from local residents, DFO did not directly observe seals eating cod in Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland. While an individual local seal collector had made this claim, scientists involved in a survey in the area were present to observe this behaviour. Fisheries Officers, who are the eyes and ears of the Department in the field, also reported to scientists on this incident.

Recommendation 6

The Committee recommends that Canada, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, must immediately commit itself to the goal of removing trade barriers within the MMPA whereby Canadian seal products are prevented from entering the United States. Canada must make strong submissions in the Committee hearing process about to be held in the U.S. Congress. In addition, Canada must seriously consider seeking a review under GATT of the prohibition on the importation of Canadian seal products into the United States.

The Committee also recommends that the Government of Canada undertake an immediate examination of the U.S. MMPA to ensure that it complies with the provisions of both the WTO and NAFTA with respect to Canadian seal products. If the investigation concludes that the MMPA does violate either or both of the trade agreements, the Committee recommends that immediate trade action be commenced. If the MMPA is found not to contravene either the WTO or the NAFTA, the federal government should immediately commence discussions with the United States to determine the best means by which Canadian seal products may gain access to the U.S. market place.

Government Response

The Government has worked to ensure that Canada's longstanding concerns about key provisions of the MMPA are well known to the U.S. Government. In April this year, Canada's then Minister of Fisheries and Oceans raised the issue with a key U.S. Senator during a visit to Washington. Canadian officials have communicated Canada’s concerns to the U.S. Administration, and intend to take advantage of the current MMPA re-authorization process in the U.S. Congress to reiterate Canada's position. Moreover, Canadian officials will continue to provide key Canadian stakeholders with information on the MMPA re-authorization process, and to provide these stakeholders with advice on the best way to make their voice heard in the U.S.. Canadian officials are also consulting with the governments of like-minded countries on possibilities for a coordinated effort.

A U.S. Congressional Research Service report of April 6, 1999, acknowledges that because the MMPA prohibits trade in marine mammal products regardless of species’ conservation status, it appears to be inconsistent with U.S. obligations under international trade agreements. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the American public believe that the MMPA provides valuable protection to marine mammals. Any attempt to "harmonize" the MMPA with U.S. international obligations will likely be seen by many Americans as an attempt to weaken it and could be met by strong opposition.

As for the issue of GATT/WTO and NAFTA consistency, Canada raised questions about the MMPA with the U.S. authorities in July in the context of the WTO Trade Policy Review of the United States (an overall examination of U.S. trade policies by WTO Members).

Canada expressed its concerns about the MMPA, and formally asked what action the U.S. Government is contemplating to bring the MMPA into conformity with U.S. international obligations. Canadian officials continue to seek a response. Canada will continue to pursue this issue with the U.S., and is considering all options to address it, including recourse to dispute settlement.

In the short term, Canada has begun to discuss with U.S. authorities ways to smooth temporary non-commercial transfer across the border of items from aboriginal communities for cultural or educational purposes, which the MMPA allows for under limited circumstances.

Recommendation 7

The Committee recommends that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans must undertake a process of legislative reform resulting in appropriate revisions to bring statutes and regulations relating to sealing into conformity with modern land claim agreements, Aboriginal treaties and the rights of Aboriginal peoples under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Department must carry out such a process in full collaboration with affected land claims bodies and Aboriginal peoples.

The Department should also revise the Marine Mammal Regulations to ensure that these do not provide excuses for frivolous and nuisance trade barriers.

Government Response

The Government acknowledges that land claims agreements and the Fisheries Act and Marine Mammal Regulations should be consistent. The Government further acknowledges the constitutional protection afforded to existing Aboriginal and treaty rights. The regulations will be amended as necessary.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is mindful that sealing regulations may be used to provide excuses for trade barriers in other countries and will seek to revise those regulations. It may not be possible, however, to avoid these kinds of difficulties. For example, many groups would like the regulations changed to allow the harvest of older bluebacks (young hooded seals which maintain their blueback coat for six months or more). While there is no biological or conservation reason to refuse this request, coat colour is the basis for the current Economic Union (EU) seal import restrictions and any change could result in further trade barriers.

The Marine Mammal Regulations governing the seal hunt are being reviewed with the aim of adapting them to the current conditions of the harvest.

DFO has developed fourteen potential changes to the regulations on seals and sealing that are based on consultations and submissions from more than 80 groups, including Aboriginal groups, representatives of the commercial seal industry, conservation and animal rights groups. In addition to a mail-out to stakeholders, the Department hosted a public forum on May 18-19, 1999 in St. John’s, Newfoundland in which about 50 groups participated, including scientists, academics, Aboriginal leaders, animal rights activitist, provincial and federal officials and a wide range of industry stakeholders.

A complete report on the forum is available from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Copies may be requested by email at the following address:

Recommendation 8

The Committee recommends that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans work actively with the provincial and territorial governments to produce and distribute educational materials that raise public awareness of the practices and benefits of Canada’s sealing industry. The Department must play a leading role in ensuring that educational and promotional materials are distributed not only domestically, but also in the United States and Europe.

Government Response

As with other industries, the Government views the development and distribution of educational and promotional material on the practices and benefits of the sealing industry as primarily the responsibility of the industry itself. Nevertheless, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) is involved in supporting development at the sector level and has recently provided funding for projects undertaken by the Seal Industry Development Council (SIDC). Since 1998, ACOA has been involved in four projects, with total contributions of almost $185,000 for public education and public relations campaigns and for the generic promotion of omega-3 and other seal products.

In addition, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) will continue to make its missions abroad available to promote public awareness of the seal hunt on the international front.

DFO has provided and will continue to provide technical assistance and facilitate educational and promotional activities within the industry whenever possible. DFO has been active in making information available on the Department’s mandate, role and responsibilities regarding the seal hunt. For a number of years, the Department has produced a brochure (the most recent version is entitled 1999 Seal Facts) which is distributed to the public, the sealing industry and to Canadian missions abroad, including the United States and Europe. Canadian High Commission staff in London has been briefed by DFO to help them answer inquiries. The Department itself has responded to hundreds of inquiries from the public and stakeholders.

News releases and backgrounders have been routinely issued to announce the annual Atlantic seal management plans. Throughout the 1999 season information was provided to the media on the harp seal population survey and other initiatives of public interest. Technical briefings have been offered to the media on a number of issues related to seals and the seal hunt, and DFO officials have given numerous interviews to journalists, both domestic and international.

The DFO internet website ( contains much of the Department’s material on seals. In preparation for the 2000 season, the Department is in the process of re-organizing this site to ensure that information on the seal hunt is current and easily accessible.

Recommendation 9

The Committee recommends that the federal government, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Industry Canada, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, demonstrate, through raising public awareness, that sealing is a viable and sustainable commercial activity in Canada.

The Committee also recommends that the federal government, through Industry Canada, provide direct financial assistance, in an amount to be determined in consultation with industry stakeholders, to assist in the further development of marketable goods by the industry.

Government Response

Efforts on the part of DFO, DFAIT and ACOA to raise public awareness of the sealing industry have been described in the Government Response to Recommendation 8.

With respect to financial assistance, ACOA has provided funding in Newfoundland for commercial projects in the seal industry for activities such as processing, product development research and marketing. Two recent examples

of commercial projects supported through the ACOA Business Development Program are: a $249,000 contribution for product research and development based on producing human and animal protein supplements from seal meat; and a $144,842 contribution for a research and development project aimed at producing medicinal skin products using seal oil. Similar type initiatives were also funded under the Canada/Newfoundland Agreement on Fishing Industry Development.

Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions (CED) has provided financial assistance for seal industry projects under its Coastal Quebec Fund and small business assistance program, IDEA-SME. CED is currently assisting l’Association provinciale du loup-marin.

ACOA and CED will continue to support commercially viable projects based on development and marketing of seal products. Support will be considered for projects which require funding and demonstrate the ability to provide economic benefits to the region.

To help Canadian companies become more productive and competitive in the global, knowledge based economy, Industry Canada has set five strategic objectives in the areas of innovation, connectedness (i.e. connecting Canadians to the Information Highway), marketplace operations, investment and trade promotion. Its programs and services are focussed on these five objectives and are designed to benefit a diverse client base across Canada.

To reach its clients, Industry Canada collaborates extensively with partners at all levels of government and the private sector, and provides leading-edge service products, such as the Canada Business Service Centres, and Internet services, such as Strategis which is the largest national source of strategic information for, and about, Canadian business. Industry Canada provides a range of services for small businesses that are also available to those engaged in the sealing industry, such as improved access to capital through mechanisms like the Canada Small Business Financing Act (CSBFA) and business development information through venues such as the Small Business Info-Fairs.

Recommendation 10

The Committee recommends that a committee comprising representatives from industry, the federal, provincial and territorial governments, and of non-government organizations, be established to plan a strategy to develop the sealing industry to its maximum potential.

Government Response

While the Government would welcome the formation of a multi-sectoral Committee, the planning of a strategy to develop the industry to its maximum potential would best be led by the sealing industry itself. Much of the infrastructure is already in place, particularly in Newfoundland and Quebec, where sealing councils exist now.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Seal Industry Development Council (SIDC) is composed of representatives of the harvesting and processing sectors and is dealing with all aspects of industry development, including public education and marketing. The Conseil québécois de l’industrie du loup-marin performs the same function for sealing industry interests in the Province of Quebec.

ACOA and CED are generally receptive to participating in inter-departmental committees which focus on developing strategies on how best to maximize the potential of any sector eligible under its mandate.

In Newfoundland, the focal point for future sealing industry initiatives would be through the new Fisheries Diversification Program (FDP) under the Economic Development Component of ACOA’s contribution to the Canadian Fisheries Adjustment and Restructuring initiative (CFAR). ACOA will be working in partnership with the Province of Newfoundland’s Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture and DFO to advance sealing industry initiatives in the areas of new product development, new market identification, full utilization of species and discards, innovative harvesting and processing technology.

The focal point for similar assistance in Quebec is the CED Coastal Quebec Fund, a program also funded under CFAR.

Recommendation 11

Recognizing that sealing is a legal and legitimate industry, the Committee recommends that the Government of Canada take action to support and promote it as it would any other industry, specifically through initiatives such as a comprehensive analysis of the potential markets for seal products in the United States, Europe and Asia, the duties of Canadian trade promotion officers on foreign postings, and Team Canada trade tours.

The Committee also recommends that the Government of Canada commit, through Industry Canada, funding for the promotion of seal products, both domestically and internationally.

Government Response

Where countries allow the import of seal products, the DFAIT’s trade promotion, market development programs and services are available for marketing of seal products under the same conditions as other Canadian products or services. DFAIT is continuing to provide market access information on selected priority markets in consultation with interested stakeholders.

ACOA recently funded the Sealing Industry Development Council in its efforts to promote seal fur and leather products in domestic and international markets. In addition, ACOA provided a contribution of $250,000 towards a promotional campaign for a producer of seal oil-based omega-3 nutritional supplements.

Currently, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ interest in international business development activities is limited to market access issues that is, to maintain and improve trade rules that would optimize access to export markets for Canadian fish and seafood products. As a result of the government-wide review of priorities and activities in 1994, DFO is no longer involved in product support or promotion activities, and the Department has previously declined to assist the fishing industry with market promotion activities. It would, therefore, be inappropriate for DFO to be involved in any international promotion of the sealing industry, other than for market access issues, such as seeking amendments to the MMPA.

To improve the international trade performance of Canadian companies, Industry Canada participates in "Team Canada Inc", an alliance which includes 22 federal departments and agencies, working in partnership with provinces and territories and the private sector, to help Canadian companies succeed in international markets. Team Canada Inc partners link their resources to provide seamless market information, export counselling skills development, market entry support and trade financing services to prospective and existing Canadian exporters.

The International Trade Centres (ITC) of Industry Canada, located across the country, and the Department’s Trade Team Canada Sector (TTCS) teams play a leadership role in the development of sector strategies and regional plans respectively, which guide the international business development activities of industry and Team Canada Inc partners, regionally and nationally. As regional strategies and plans evolve, there is potential for the sealing industry to participate as it develops product lines for export markets.

Recommendation 12

The Committee recommends that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, in cooperation with the sealing industry, provincial governments, and the Government of Nunavut, undertake to establish a long-term strategy for the management of seal populations. The strategy should be informed by the recommendations of the panel established to evaluate the status of scientific knowledge with respect to the harp seal population.

Government Response

The Government notes that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is undertaking the development of a long-term strategy for the management of seal populations, as the Committee has recommended. Currently, a management policy review is under way. Along with an updated population estimate for harp seals, this review will provide the basis for public consultations on a five-year management plan for the Atlantic seal hunt which will include provinces, territories and the sealing industry, as the Committee has recommended.

The population estimate will be available early 2000. This will give the Department time to consult and consider factors such as:

  • seal interaction with other species;
  • uncertainties in the analysis of seal-fish interactions;
  • the impact of any changes on efforts to remove U.S. trade barriers;
  • the impact on current seal marketing initiatives;
  • the possibility of increased boycotts of Canadian products abroad; and
  • the inclusion of the Greenland harvest in any overall harvest strategy.

The panel, as outlined in Recommendation 1, will be able to consider these factors in its work and to play an active role in formulating a long-term strategy for management of seal populations. The goal would be to introduce a multi-year management plan for 2001-2005.

Recommendation 13

The Committee recommends that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans undertake a study and report on the practices of other countries with respect to managing seal populations.

Government Response

The Government agrees with the Committee’s recommendation and will undertake a study of other countries’ practices in managing seal populations. Options for conducting the study are being considered by the Department and are expected to be finalized shortly. Once the study is complete, the Department will report its findings to the Committee, as recommended.

Recommendation 14

The Committee recommends that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans make it as convenient as possible for observers of the hunt, whether foreign parliamentarians or representatives of legitimate organizations (such as IFAW), to conduct their activities in an open manner without interfering with the progress of the seal hunt.

Government Response

The Government notes that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is presently making it possible for the observers of the seal hunt to conduct their activities in an open manner without interfering with the progress of the seal fishery. The Department considers issuing seal fishery observation licences pursuant to the Marine Mammal Regulations, to all persons who request a licence. Conditions are attached to the licence to ensure an orderly and reasonable approach. The conditions include the following:

  • a 25 metre distance must be kept from the sealing activity;
  • the observation licence holder must advise DFO before he/she intends to go to the area in which he/she has been authorized to observe;
  • the licence is valid for one day and can be renewed twice and the observation is limited to a specified area.

The Department is awaiting the outcome of a court challenge before the Ontario Court General Division of the seal observation licences and the management of the seal fishery.

The Department sought the views of groups, including stakeholders, fishermen, environmental and animal rights groups in May 1999 during public consultations in Newfoundland on proposed modifications to the Marine Mammal Regulations. Participants were divided on the degree of open access to the harvest although the majority agreed to wait for clarification from the Court as a result of the court challenge.

 Recommendation 15

Given the sensitivity of the seal hunt, the Committee recommends that DFO increase its monitoring of the hunt and that it make its own video records. The unedited video would be reviewed by DFO officials to ensure that the hunt is being conducted according to the provisions of the Fisheries Act and any other appropriate statutes.

Government Response

The Government notes that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans already commits a large amount of resources to the seal hunt which occurs at a time of the year when few other fisheries are under way. As well, since seals are processed in a relatively few number of processing plants, monitoring and enforcement activities are much easier.

The Department has sophisticated cameras that are used for overflights and are a valuable aid for enforcement. However, the Department does not have the available resources to make video records of the same volume and quality as those provided by groups, such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, whose recent videos were made using highly sophisticated and expensive gyroscopic cameras.