Elusive Chinese seal deal is just another year of empty promises

"This is a huge breakthrough for our sealing industry." - Former Canadian Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea - January 19, 2011 - CLICK FOR VIDEO

Back in January of this year, Canada’s then-Fisheries Minister Gail Shea announced to great fanfare and media attention that Canada had signed a new agreement with China, opening up the Chinese market to edible seal products.

Shea trumpeted loudly that ”thousands of Canadian families...will directly benefit from this new market access arrangement with China”, and industry and politicians alike patted themselves on the back for a job well done.

Unlike politicians who work in four-year cycles, the International Fund for Animal Welfare is fortunate to have a somewhat longer memory on sealing issues – after all we’ve been working on the campaign to end the seal hunt for more than 40 years.

These promises of a Chinese market for seal meat sounded familiar. A check through our files confirmed it – nearly two decades of Canadian politicians promising that China would open up its doors to seal meat inports and save the dying sealing industry, but it still hadn’t happened.

IFAW’s seal team immediately began to look for more information on the supposed deal. Our team in China met with Chinese government officials, and here inCanadawe submitted an Access to Information request for a copy of the agreement.

Surprisingly, our meetings with Chinese government officials indicated that Canada had perhaps misrepresented the deal; that it wasn’t yet ‘sealed’ and that it was still being considered. Months later, our Access to Information request was denied for reasons that implied a threat to national security.

One would think that such a highly touted “deal” – if it existed – would be public information.  After all, what could possibly be so secretive about seal meat?  So ever since, IFAW has been looking for the elusive “seal deal”.

So our attention was piqued on the evening of 25 October, while watching a webcast of the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. During the committee meeting (which is debating a grey seal cull that I’ll report more on later), the Associate Assistant Deputy Minister at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, stated that,

“The department is working with provinces to encourage investment in the area of product and market development.  The role of the department with respect to those efforts is very much that of the regulator of the harvest, as well as facilitating projects to create product opportunities and markets.

That included last January 2011, where a cooperation agreement was initialled with the government ofChina, with the prospect of importing meat and oil products.  That is still under review byChina, but that does potentially hold some promise for market development for commercial harvesters. “

Later in the meeting he went on to say, “Our former minister was inChinalast January where there was the initialing of a cooperation arrangement that is now under review by the Chinese government.  When they complete their review, it will hopefully permit the import intoChinaof seal meat and oils for use there.”

Whaaat? Did this mean there was really no deal after all? That nearly a year later, it appears that all this fanfare was over the “initialling” of an arrangement?  I suppose Canadian politicians misrepresenting the truth is nothing new, and we really shouldn’t have been so surprised.

It is a shame though, that seals – and promises to sealers – continue to be used as nothing but pawns in the politician’s game to get re-elected. Once the election is over, the promises are forgotten.

Now, we’re not saying the government of Canada should be keeping their promise to open markets for seal products. Far from it! It is becoming obvious that most of the world does not want cruelty-tainted seal products, and the past 20 years of trying to market seal meat to the world have proven to be a complete failure.

But sealers deserve far better than empty promises of reviving an industry that seems unlikely to recover. Instead of wasting millions of dollars on expensive trade lawyers, overseas political junkets that amount to nothing, and funds for pro-seal hunt lobby groups, sealers themselves could be profiting directly through a licence buyout or other means.  Government support to transition sealers out of an industry with such a bleak future is an action that IFAW – and most Canadians – would support.

For now, it appears s though the Chinese market remains closed to seal meat products, and so it should be. We have numerous concerns about the safety of seal meat being put into the food supply, including the lack of proper inspection, and the risk of disease, and contamination. IFAW will continue to work hard to encourage countries to close their doors to seal products, and ensure that new markets do not appear.

-- SF

Comments: 3

6 years ago

Would you object to sending nutriious seal meat to feed the straving people of africa or china? You praise the good people of europe and russia for closing down the markets for this Barbaric practice, but arent their fishing fleets resposible for the raping and pillaging of the worlds oceans. Including several African areas which has directly caused food shortages and as a bonus lead to an increase in the bush meat trade (you do campaign agaist that correct). So wouldnt your resorces be better spent campaigning against the EU and russian federation factory trawler fleets than the canadian harvest of a sustainable and healthy population of animals (If the poor ice conditions continue I would be fully perpared to change my opinion but as of today the ice conditions are improving)?

6 years ago

Sheryl, not to many people would have the courage to see first hand the horrific cruelty done to our precious seals. Your compassion speaks volume and not only you saved the animals but you are giving a long overdue breath of air in the hearts of millions of animal lovers of the world. I'm so proud to be a part of your life saving organization.

6 years ago

I live in Australia and we did have a flourishing sealing industry until the mid 19th century. Thank goodness it finished then and I am appalled that there are still 5 countries who rely (so they say) commercially on sealing. I just assumed, I guess, and silly of me to do so, that because Australia is no longer a party to this practice, that no-one else was either. I am so glad that I live in a country that increasingly recognises that animal protection and welfare is a high priority. Also, as a member of the Commonwealth, I am surprised and disappointed that Canada, still a Commonwealth country also, is still a party to this trade. I might also add, however, that in Australia, we do still have battles to win for the protection of our domestic and native animals, one battle being that of saving the dingo. One of those organisations of which I support is the Save the Fraser Island Dingo, a true battlefield in animal welfare. And as far as China is concerned - Canada, don't go there. With regard to the sealers who have relied on this industry for their livelihood, and I know little about that subject, I will say this. Australia, is a diverse country with an unusually diverse climate in which we see years of drought which also affects our farmers so in the late 1990s and into the 2000s, we had a severe drought situation and many of our farmers, who relied on the land for their livelihood, just as Canadian sealers rely on their industry, had to face the fact that if they wished to survive they had to find another viable and economical use for their land. This was done with government assistance with the farmers and also the farming and wider community where we witnessed the public donating funds, along with some of our major Aussie celebs holding music events such as Farmhand concerts, which raised a lot of money to help farmers who were struggling. It is my belief, if the Canadian government is not putting its hand up to assist in a similar vein already, then the people of Canada need to remind the government that it is lacking in its duty of care towards its people, in this instance. As a matter of interest, as I write this, I am also watching a repeat of the CHOGM conference and the commitment by all Commonwealth countries, including the commitment by the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to eradicate poliomyelitis in children, around the world. Good call initiated by Microsoft founder, Bill Gates. Perhaps Mr Harper should also be reminded that he has a commitment to his own people, in this instance, the Canadian sealing industry.

Post a comment


Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Joseph Okori
Regional Director, Southern Africa and Program Director, Landscape Conservation
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy