No—none of the seal species harvested in Canada are endangered. Quite the opposite! The harp seal population in the northwest Atlantic is abundant and increasing, currently numbering over 7.4 million individuals. The population of grey seals, harvested in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, has risen steadily since the 1980s. Ringed seals, populous in Arctic waters, number at least 3 million.
The Northern Fur Seal, found off the west coast of Canada, is the only Canadian seal species listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. It is not hunted.
The Canadian seal harvest is managed by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, based on a sustainable use model. Quotas are developed, based on a precautionary principle—the socio-economic and ecological benefits of harvesting seals run deep; the government is committed to ensuring a healthy seal population for generations to come. Canadian federal management measures have been highly successful in conserving the seal populations, as the numbers show.
No. Harvesters, government regulators, and consumers agree: all seals are to be taken quickly, humanely, and death is confirmed before pelts are removed. Sealers are skilled, trained professionals who treat the animals with respect.
Employed properly, the hunting methods of Canadian professional sealers are effective and in accordance with established practices of animal welfare, as recommended by the Independent Veterinarians’ Working Group. Statistics show the sealing industry has maintained a 96 per cent compliance rate with these standards.
All commercial sealers must be fully trained in these humane practices before renewing their licenses.
Absolutely not. The market for seal fur and leather is certainly growing, thanks to the interests of artisans, textile producers, and the fashion industry. While seal pelts are prized, the rest of the animal is as well. Seal oil, rendered from seal blubber, is a source of easily metabolized, beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids and a popular food-grade health supplement.
Seal meat is also a valuable commodity. For small-scale sealers and their families and communities, it is a cheap, healthy, accessible, and sustainable source of protein. For a growing list of chefs, Canada-wide, seal meat is a locally sourced, organic meat to be celebrated and incorporated into menus.
The Canadian government began subsidizing its sealers after the market collapsed in 1983, but only for market and product development, including a meat subsidy (1995-99) to encourage full use of harp seal. With the return to profitability of the industry, these subsidies ceased in 2001.
In 2015, the federal government announced a $5.7 million Certification and Market Access Program for Seals to support Indigenous communities in leveraging the EU’s Indigenous communities’ exemption for seal products (including business training and the development of certification protocols). The fund is also used to promote and improve market access for all Canadian seal products.
At the national level, the economic contribution of sealing is small—yet it represents a significant source of income for over 6,000 individuals and their families in remote coastal communities at a time of year when employment opportunities are extremely limited. In some communities, over 25% of households take part in the hunt, and among those people the hunt can account for 25-35% of their annual income.
As a local and sustainable food source, it is difficult to pin a dollar value on the seal hunt. Especially in areas like the high north, where food security is an issue, seal meat is vital: one ringed seal can provide $200 worth of meat to a family.
The landed value of seals fluctuates from year to year, reaching a historic high of $34.1 million in 2006. This amount dipped sharply after the EU ban on seal products in 2009, but is on the rise again, as new markets are successfully developed.
Overfishing by humans was the main factor in the collapse of Northwest Atlantic cod stocks, but a wide range of factors are responsible for their slow recovery. Each seal can consume up to 1.5 tonnes of fish per year, and it is known that in some areas, they are hindering the return of cod stocks.
Consumption estimates indicate that harp and grey seals consume approximately 350,000 tonnes of cod per year. By comparison, Canada’s total annual Atlantic codfish landings were about 16,000 tonnes in 2016.
It is important to note that the Canadian government sets commercial sealing quotas based on how best to conserve seal stocks—not to protect fish. In a balanced ecosystem, fish and seals will coexist at sustainable numbers.
Seals pups are very young seals—the term usually refers to white coats which are totally dependent on their mothers for food and security. It is illegal to hunt seals at this stage, and has been since 1987. Marine Mammal Regulations forbid the hunt, sale, or trade of white coats. Additionally, adult seals cannot be harvested at the whelping (birthing) grounds, or while their babies are dependent on them.
Shortly after weaning, seals moult and lose their white fur, begin to swim and hunt, and are generally no longer referred to as pups. At this stage, they become totally independent, as their mothers generally leave for their annual migration. Female seals are called cows, and males, bulls.
Yes. Sealing is an important part of many Canadians’ lives—culturally and economically. The seal populations are healthy, and each animal provides a diverse range of products that increase food security, strengthen community bonds, and provide a means of making a living in some of this country’s most isolated areas.
The seal harvest is a sustainable industry, built on respect for animals and the ecosystem, drawing on the traditions of the past and the markets of the future.