Is the opinion on the seal hunt changing in Newfoundland?

seal on the ice of the gulf of st. lawrence, canada

I’ve got some promising news to share about the commercial seal hunt. In the province of Newfoundland and Labrador -- traditionally a hotbed of support for this inhumane, outdated hunt – we’re seeing some interesting changes in peoples’ views. This summer, a poll of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians was completed by Public Square Research that shows a marked decrease in attachment to the commercial seal hunt in that province. In comparison to a survey conducted in 2014 which asked the same questions, fewer respondents said they would be upset if the hunt were to end, more believe that the commercial seal hunt is an industry in decline, and more think that the commercial hunt will inevitably end one day.

The online poll asked 454 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians about how the commercial seal hunt fits into their views on the economic, political, and cultural landscape of the province.

The results suggest that while the commercial seal hunt still enjoys symbolic support among Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, with 70% saying it is important to their heritage and culture, attitudes across the province appear to be changing with many now viewing the seal hunt as a “legacy industry.”

When we compare polling results from 2014 and 2017, we found some notable changes in attitudes towards the commercial sealing industry:

  • Support for the commercial seal hunt in NL remains widespread, but weakening. 63% of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians said they were supportive of the commercial seal hunt, but only 18% would be very upset if it were to end. This is a decrease from 2014, when 27% who said they would  be very upset.
  • 56% believe that the end of the seal hunt is inevitable, up from 49% in 2014.
  • There has been a 18% dip in confidence that the seal hunt has a strong future, dropping to 46% in 2017 from 64% in 2014.

We’ve long known that seal meat is a tough sell to most Canadians and the rest of the world, but what about in Newfoundland itself? Government statistics in recent years suggest that 85-92% of seal meat is currently wasted, and not brought to shore. We’ve also seen a growing number of initiatives in recent years to encourage Newfoundlanders to eat more seal, including workshops, recipes, and videos on how to prepare it.

A Canadian sealer clubs a beater harp seal pup that's looking up at him on the ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada, 2003.It was interesting, then, to find that 65% of respondents said they never ate seal meat, and 20% said they only ate it once a year. When asked the reason for not eating more seal, 36% responded that “they did not like it” and 19% said they “would never want to eat seal”.  Only 24% said it was “hard to find in stores” and 11% said they “didn’t know how to prepare it.” This suggests that it is not a lack of availability or knowledge of how to prepare seal meat, but rather that people just don’t like the taste – or the idea - of it.

Similarly, there has been a lot of media hype surrounding Newfoundlanders purchasing seal products such as jackets, boots, purses, and mittens.  But less than a third of respondents (31%) said that they owned seal products, with 58% citing the high price as being a factor, but with 27% stating that “nothing could make them wear seal.”

This shift in attitudes coincides with a dramatic decrease in the number of sealing licences, suggesting that sealers may also see the seal hunt as an industry in decline. Only 4,460 commercial sealing licences were issued in Newfoundland and Labarador in 2017, down from 13,289 in 2003. The number of “active” sealers is unknown, but is likely even smaller.

As the value  of the sealing industry decreases and sealers leave the industry, it is time to start thinking about the future. The millions of dollars poured into the commercial seal hunt in recent decades have failed to revive this dying industry. It is time for the government of Canada to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on an industry of thepast, and instead support alternatives that have a real economic future, such as ecotourism.

seal on the ice of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada

Please take action and ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau  to stop support for the East Coast seal hunt, and instead provide economic alternatives for fishermen and their communities. 

--SF

The survey was conducted by Public Square Research between June 10th and June 16th 2017. Thirty-three questions were asked. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have registered to participate in The Angus Reid Forum. The data have been weighted to reflect the demographic composition of  Newfoundland, according to statistics Canada. Because the sample is based on those who initially self-selected for participation in the Angus Reid Forum rather than a probability sample, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated.  

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Sheryl Fink, Campaign Director, Canadian Wildlife
Campaign Director, Canadian Wildlife
Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
Vice President of International Operations