Go back


NNSL Logo .
 Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad Print window Print this page

Hunters fear seal bans will hurt industry

Stephanie McDonald
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 13, 2007

NUNAVUT - Twenty-four years after the 1983 European-wide ban on seal products devastated the Nunavut sealing industry, fears are resurfacing that the same could happen again.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

The Netherlands is prepared to impose a ban on the importation and marketing of Canadian seal products in early September, and Germany and England are contemplating similar action. - photo courtesy of the Department of Environment

Belgium banned the importation and marketing of Canadian seal products this past April, to protest what it believes is a cruel and unnecessary slaughter of the marine animals.

The Netherlands is set to impose a similar ban in early September and Germany and England are contemplating similar action. The United States, Mexico, Croatia and Italy have already banned the importation of seal products.

"It will always affect us," said Tommy Kilabuk, chairperson with the Ikajutit Hunters and Trappers Association in Arctic Bay. "Whatever ban they are doing in Europe or elsewhere has always had an impact in the North."

Kilabuk said that commercial seal hunting in Arctic Bay virtually stopped after the early 1980s ban, eliminating a way for hunters to make money for their families. Seal hunting used to be the main source of income because seals can be hunted year round.

"If they stop buying them, that will cut the traditional knowledge out," Kilabuk warned.

Nevertheless, sealing will continue in Nunavut communities, as seal remains a staple food item and a source of material for mitts, boots, pants, and parkas, Kilabuk said. He estimates that 70 to 80 per cent of residents in Arctic Bay hunt seal.

Government of Nunavut renewable resource officers in each community are now the sole purchaser of seal skins across the territory.

Co-op and Northern stores used to buy the pelts from hunters, but stopped the service after prices dropped following the 1983 ban.

The Nunavut sealing industry contributes approximately $1 million to the territory's economy annually, according the Department of Economic Development and Transportation's fisheries and sealing division.

Approximately half of that goes directly to the sealers and the other half is from commercial meat sales, clothing production, and the arts and crafts industry.

While the 1983 ban exempted aboriginal hunters, the market made no distinction.

In 2007, it could once again be Northern sealers who are hit the hardest, as a higher percentage of their income comes from selling pelts and oils, Rob Cahill, executive director of the Fur Institute of Canada said.

In 1977, 50,000 pelts from Nunavut sealers were purchased for international sale. In 1988, only 1,000 pelts were bought. The price dropped to $5 a skin from approximately $25 in the late 1970s, according to the Department of Economic Development and Transportation. The market and prices paid for seal skins did rebound in the mid-1990s, but the new bans put the industry in jeopardy once again.

What is equally worrisome about the ban is that the information European governments are receiving is largely wrong and supplied primarily by a single animal rights group, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Cahill said.

"It's not going to have a huge direct impact, or an immediate impact," Cahill said.

However, Belgium and the Netherlands import very few Canadian seal pelts, but the concern is that other countries may follow their lead, he said.

"It has the potential to set a precedence for other countries to implement bans for the same wrong reasons."

If similar bans persist, the impact on Nunavut sealers will be felt in phases. Initially there will be a reduction in the price paid for pelts and seal oil.

There is the then a potential for the demand for these products to be reduced, Cahill said.

The Canadian government is challenging Belgium's ban at the World Trade Organization.

Meanwhile, the Fur Institute is organizing a campaign to educate the European public and parliamentarians on the realities of Canada's sustainable and humane seal hunt.