Canada's commercial seal hunt: past, present, and future.

Published online
03 Aug 2016
Published by
International Fund for Animal Welfare
Content type

Publication language
Canada & Gulf of St. Lawrence & Newfoundland and Labrador


This booklet discusses Canada's commercial seal hunt in spring on the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador and Gulf of St. Lawrence, in order to obtain whitecoat seal pelts and products. The Canadian seal hunt is the first animal welfare issue to be internationally condemned as baby white seal pups were being clubbed and skinned on ice, and were seen in print and on television in the 1960's and 1970's. The European ban on whitecoat seal products ended the hunt in the 1980's, but the collapse of the cod fishery in 1992 revived the seal hunt, since harp seals were blamed for the failure of cod to recover in 1995. Since then, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to develop and market new seal products, support sealers' organizations, provide direct subsidies to sealers, and promote seal products internationally. The subsidies reinvigorated the industry for a decade, but as the numbers of kills increased, so did the concerns over inhumane killings. The European Union noticed these animal killings in 2009, and totally banned the commercial trade in all seal products, except those from indigenous hunts. Canada and Norway challenged these bans in 2014 at the World Trade Organization, but the bans were justified by public moral concerns over commercial hunting of seals. Commercial seal hunting continues to rely on government support, offering seasonal, part-time employment for a few hundred individuals in Atlantic Canada. Efforts to market seal products have failed and resulted to massive wastes, wherein >90% of the meat is left on ice or thrown in the ocean. It is recommended to support alternatives to commercial sealing so as to provide sustainable, long-term, and meaningful employment to former sealers.

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