Northern Gulf seal hunt opens with a fizzle

And so it begins…day one of the Canadian commercial seal hunt in the Northern Gulf of St Lawrence

The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s seal team is in Newfoundland, Canada to observe and document the commercial seal hunt.

Earlier this week, we’d learned that the Newfoundland government had just bailed out the sealing industry with a cash infusion of $3.6 million Canadian dollars.  But would it be enough to save a dying seal hunt whose profits have plummeted in recent years, and an industry that by all accounts appears to be on its last legs?

The bailout money means that processors can purchase 130,000 skins this year, and the influx of government cash has boosted the confidence of the sealing industry. As such, we weren’t sure what to expect this year. Would sealers rush out to fill the warehouses with stockpiles of seal pelts this year? 

Or would they, too, be looking for something better? 

As it turns out, only nine boats hailed out on opening day and we were able to locate three of them.  Startlingly, there were hardly any seals at all in the area, making it extremely slow going for the hunters. 

One seal pup was shot, hooked with a gaff, and skinned on the back of the boat.  Then perhaps a half an hour passed - maybe more - the boat searching in vain before another seal was to be found. I was struck by what a difficult way this is to earn money. With five men on each boat, so few seals in sight, and processors paying only $27 for a top-grade skin this year, it is difficult to imagine that any of these men will leave the hunt without losing money.

In an interview with a local radio station, I talked about Newfoundland and its people. They are among the kindest I’ve come across, and I do sympathize with the men who try and bring in a few extra dollars from sealing.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I don’t believe sealers are “barbarians” or any of the other words that get put in my mouth.  I like to believe we can come to resolution on the sealing issue without resorting to conflict or name calling. 

Sealing is an important part of Newfoundland’s history, but that doesn’t mean it needs to continue in this day and age. Products like fur simply aren’t necessary, the methods of killing seals in commercial seal hunts continue to raise serious animal welfare concerns, and market demand for seal products appears negligible.   

It’s time for the seal hunt to be relegated to the pages of history, instead of being kept on life support with continued infusions of Canadian taxpayer dollars.

Tens of millions of taxpayer dollars have been poured into the sealing industry over the last few decades, with very little to show for it. In fact, the landed value of the hunt is the lowest it’s been in recent memory.

The Newfoundland seal hunt has begun, and although it opened with somewhat of a fizzle we have many more days ahead of us, with the sealing area referred to as The Front set to open on April 12.

This year’s hunt will be a sign of how far the government’s bailout money will go, and whether it will be enough to revive this flagging industry.

IFAW supporters and all the voices raised in opposition to the seal hunt play an active role in all of this and in helping bring the commercial seal hunt to an end.

Please keep following our updates, share them, talk about them, and most importantly tell the Canadian government that it’s time to make the seal hunt history once and for all.


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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