In addition to the indigenous Inuit, Canada's sealing culture is strongly represented by the descendents of Europeans who settled
in areas opened up by commercial sealing.
Europeans began sailing to Canada to hunt seals more than three centuries ago. Those who settled combined this livelihood with fishing, and their descendents today continue to depend on these two resources.
Today there are about 6,000 Atlantic Canadians active in the seal hunt. Their culture has been shaped by the inhospitable and sometimes dangerous environment in which they live and work. Sealers and their families have survived for centuries through a social system that is formed around the procuring of seasonally available food; sources from communal kitchen gardens, the harvest of wild berries, the hunting of wild game including sea birds, as well as fresh fish and sea food. From this necessity grew a culture of economic adaptation, hard work and mutual respect.
Today, all sealers are licensed and hunt from their own small fishing boats, as large vessels are prohibited for sealing. Almost all sealers are seasonal fishermen who rely on sealing to help compensate for declining stocks of commercial fish such as cod.
In 1992, over 40,000 people lost their jobs when the collapse of cod stocks off the east coast of Newfoundland forced the Canadian government to close the fishery.
In 2006, the landed value of the harp seal hunt exceeded C$30 million. To people living in isolated villages with a limited range of employment options, a few thousand dollars is significant. Considered in context, sealing can make an enormous impact on a family’s well-being: In Canada, the top homeports for sealers have unemployment rates that are in excess of 30% higher than the national average. For some sealers, the income they gain from sealing represents 25-35% of their total annual income.
To these people, seals provide a livelihood, but they also provide meat for the table. In Newfoundland, it is estimated that the edible portion of one harp seal is worth an equivalent of $150 of store-bought meat. In the Arctic, where store-bought food is very expensive, the edible meat of a single ringed seal is well over $200. (Dakins, 2007, Loring, 1993)