When Paul McCartney campaigned against the seal hunt in 2006, it was unclear how reliant the Inuit and some coastal community economies were on the trade.

“We are concerned about the economics for the people, but we think there are other ways to do it,” McCartney said at the time.

Three years later, the European Union banned all seal products. The market for seal products was decimated, and with it came the rise of poverty and suicide within Inuit communities despite exemptions for their products, Steven Lonsdale of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association told the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans late last year.

Now, a new report from that committee acknowledges the harm done by the ban and recommends Ottawa must do more to revive the struggling industry in what it has branded a call to action.

From left to right: Brian Francis, Bev Busson, and Fabian Manning. Photo by Matteo Cimellaro / Canada's National Observer

Ottawa should do more to promote community and scientific research on seal populations, lobby, promote and market Canada’s seal industry and remove tax exemptions for non-governmental organizations who campaign against the seal industry, the report states.

There is little research on some species of seals, such as those on the Pacific coast. However, seal numbers are known to be healthy, with some testimonies at the committee pointing to high populations of seals harming fish stock on the east coast, though gaps in scientific research and data make the impact of seal populations on Canada’s fishing industry unclear, the report said.

The report follows decades of economic collapse suffered by the seal industry that once sustained Inuit and coastal communities. That collapse was spurred by animal rights activists, including McCartney, who lobbied to end the hunt, causing bans of seal products in the European Union.

A commercial market is also important for Inuit and coastal First Nation economies, given the need to pass traditional knowledge around seal harvesting and to create opportunities for moderate livelihoods in the north, the report said.

Lifting the ban on seal products in the European Union will be an “uphill battle,” Manning said. But Asian, domestic and U.S. markets might be able to fill the gap if stigmas against seal products are erased and the current U.S. ban is lifted.

The report recommends removing tax exemptions for non-governmental organizations that hurt the seal industry and Inuit communities. These organizations do so by vilifying the industry, said Senator Fabian Manning, who chairs the committee that authored the report, at a press conference on Thursday.

“If they continue to vilify and lie about the seal industry in Canada, they should definitely not receive a tax benefit from Canada,” Manning added, questioning why Ottawa sits back on seals while it defends the beef, pork and chicken industries.

There are still some animal rights organizations that campaign against the seal harvest, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

“The Senate committee’s attempt to silence organizations that speak out against the cruel commercial seal slaughter should raise the alarm among all who value their freedom of expression,” PETA said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace, which had previously been active in campaigning against the seal hunt, apologized to the Inuit in 2014.

Lifting the ban on seal products in the European Union will be an “uphill battle,” Manning said. But Asian, domestic and U.S. markets might be able to fill the gap if stigmas against seal products are erased and the current U.S. ban is lifted.

“They love the products [we] have, but they can't buy them,” he said.

Around 90 per cent of Canada’s seal harvest occurs in Nunavut, said Senator Brian Francis at Thursday’s press conference.

Currently, only one seal processing plant remains in Canada, located in Newfoundland. The processing plant has enough capacity to handle a revived seal industry.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has set no limits to the number of seals harvesters can catch, according to senior director Todd Williams, who spoke at an earlier committee meeting.

Such limits aren’t needed because the number of seals caught for market is so low; since 2016, the harvest has not reached previous benchmarks, according to the report.

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

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Hi Matteo,

I just read your unbalanced propaganda piece about the sealing industry and am extremely disappointed that CNO should allow such a slanted, misinformed article to be presented without more balanced information from both sides of the issue. The anti-sealing campaigns in the past were used to point out the inhumane killing of fur seal pups on the Atlantic coast by the large scale industrial sealing companies that have no place in a civilized nation in the 21st century, not against subsistence hunting by indigenous groups. If indigenous groups want to engage in renewed commercial scale killing of these sentient, highly intelligent mammals, then they can expect to face as much opposition from humane organizations as the commercial sealing industry has in the past. Your use of the old propaganda trick of placing the blame for decreased fish stocks on seal populations rather than on centuries of continual industrial scale overfishing by many nations will not work on informed Canadian citizens who have empathy and concern for the other species that we share this tiny planet with and who are used to these types of misinformation campaigns. Also, your reference to Greenpeace fails to point out that that organization’s reputation as a renowned humane organization has suffered for years now due to the direction it has taken in its outlook on protection of marine species. If you wanted to provide input from organizations opposed to the commercial slaughter of marine mammals(and other non-mammalian species) you could approach the Captain Paul Watson Foundation for its views on the commercial sealing industry. Paul Watson is the Canadian born co-founder of Greenpeace who went on to found his own organization due to his disagreement with Greenpeace’s change in policies that made it less effective in using direct action campaigns to combat the propaganda and misinformation put out by the sealing and whaling industries. Please provide more balanced reporting in future - it is what I expect from Canada’s National Observer when I subscribe to it each year.

The comments appear to be from an uninformed city person who isn't well acquainted with the lives of first nation people and the fact that they live with death all the time. Would you suggest that we remove these people from their land to communities in the south where there are grocery stores?

Hi Rob, from your comment you appear to be uninformed about the cruel and inhumane commercial sealing industry that plagued Atlantic Canada before international public pressure resulting from education campaigns by many animal welfare organizations finally managed to shut it down. Indigenous subsistence seal hunting had nothing to do with this industrial scale slaughter but as with this current propaganda campaign that is attempting to revive the indefensible industry, indigenous communities were used as pawns to try to distract the public from the real issue. If our indigenous citizens truly feel connected with, and have respect for, the other species we share our environment with they will not allow themselves to be used this way. The old chestnut that Matteo mentions in his article about blaming seals for diminished fish stocks rather than the centuries of industrial scale overfishing by humans illustrates how uninformed he is about the history of this issue. The federal department of fisheries and oceans, by giving in to pressure from industry and promoting this attempt to restart commercial sealing, should change its name to the department of raping the oceans. If they think that they can quietly restart this indefensible, barbaric practice again without attracting the attention of compassionate people around the world who have long ago seen through the government and industry propaganda, they are in for a nasty surprise. Try to do some research about the history of the sealing industry before accusing other readers of being uninformed.

For heaven's sake, isn't this obscene enterprise dead yet?
Thumbs down, for all the same reasons that an industrial-scale seal hunt was a bad idea the first time around.
Let the call to return to a brutal, barbaric practice for no good purpose fall on deaf ears. May the ecologically destructive fur trade be banished to history, where it belongs.

Typically, it is the white-man's dollar that is behind these campaigns — in this case, the fur industry — and indigenous people are used as props.
Three of the four people in the photo are white.
The sealing industry is taking a page out of the O&G industry's playbook. Use indigenous peoples as front men and play up "reconciliation" to push pipelines. Play on public sympathy for the plight of indigenous peoples and use them to create political leverage for industry.
Follow the money. A mere fraction of which will end up in indigenous pockets.

Article: "When Paul McCartney campaigned against the seal hunt in 2006, it was unclear how reliant the Inuit and some coastal community economies were on the trade."

Seal hunt and seal trade are two different things. Essential to preserve the distinction.
A subsistence seal hunt to meet the community's needs is one thing. Nature cannot remotely support a global industrial-scale slaughter and trade disconnected from a traditional community's needs.
The subsistence economy of pre-colonial indigenous peoples practicing their traditional ways and subject to nature's population constraints (e.g., food resources) is long gone. To carry on as if we were living in the 15th century is folly. None of those pre-colonial conditions holds true.
It is a fact of life that societies must evolve to meet changing conditions over time. Times have changed. Conditions have changed.
The Earth cannot sustain the needs, much less the wants, of an ever increasing human population freed from most of its natural constraints.

Nothing natural or traditional about industrial-scale slaughter of any species. The traditional indigenous way of life does not include snowmobiles, spotting scopes, or high-powered rifles. There is nothing traditional about killing wildlife for parts on an industrial scale for sale in the global market.
Tradition is not a rational argument. Just because you did something yesterday is not reason to keep doing it forever.
Nature predominantly takes the weak, the young and the old, and the sick. Hunters and trappers either kill indiscriminately or take the largest and strongest—thus, weakening the genetic pool.
Human beings are wreaking havoc on the planet. This is just more of the same.

"some testimonies at the committee pointing to high populations of seals harming fish stock on the east coast"
The stock appeal to fish stocks.
Seals are unjustly blamed for the collapse of fisheries. Just like wolves and caribou, seals and fish have lived in balance for millennia. The problem is overfishing by humans and destruction of predators. Using one example of failed management to justify another. What upsets the balance — and what drives global marine ecosystem collapse — is human extractive activities that nature cannot sustain.

Under the guise of "reconciliation", the sealing industry is trying to resurrect itself. Hoping to re-create a global market for its "products".
As expected, DFO and the federal govt are in support. Making seals the scapegoat for collapsed fisheries. Deliberately confusing the commercial, industrial-scale seal hunt in the Gulf of St Lawrence and off Newfoundland with the traditional subsistence hunt of natives in the far North.
The DFO is incapable of managing species for conservation and industrial-scale slaughter at the same time.

96% of the seals killed are less than 3 months old. They are often killed right in front of their mothers.
Hunters with rifles often only wound the seals. The wounded seals often slip off the ice and into the water and drown.
When commercial seal hunters strip the pelt, they usually leave the carcass on the ice.
This cruelty is needless. There is no pressing reason to kill seals. Seals provide no essential products. Their pelts are luxury items.
The fact that there are still millions of seals means nothing. There used to be millions of cod, passenger pigeons, and buffalo. Wildlife populations can collapse suddenly.

Wildlife already faces numerous threats: habitat loss, pollution, noise, invasive species, overfishing and overhunting, and the global trade in wildlife (parts). We have turned the Earth into an abattoir—and we are the butchers. The predictable result is the sixth mass extinction.

Our incessant predation is unsustainable, if not immoral. Wildlife is not human property. Wildlife is not ours to do with as we please. We need a new caring ethic for our fellow passengers on planet Earth.
Canada needs to build a sustainable, humane economy for the 21st century. Not soaked in blood or oil.

Thank you Geoffery Pounder for your detailed analysis and commentary on Matteo's ill-informed and biased account about seal-hunting. I was actually appalled that the National Observer should have allowed such a badly skewed article about seals and sealing to occur in its pages. Yes, we do desperately need a sustainable, humane economy, that appreciates and helps nature and all wildlife, including the seals. But we are far from that right now, and it will worsen if the likes of Matteo blindly endorse the programs and directions of certain politicians and business people who can't see beyond their own bloodied noses and biases.

Thanks, National Observer for publishing this article. No reason not to make use of this resource in a sustainable way.

The problem with your statement lies in your classing seal populations as ‘resources’ that are there for the indiscriminate use of humans rather than as sentient, intelligent mammals. This thinking about other species being there for our own purposes has been responsible for the decimation of various populations such as the cod that we then try to blame other species for. Check out the philosophy of biocentrism, as described by Paul Watson, and you might end up with a different outlook on the ‘resources’ we share our planet with.

There is much to be learned by watching the NFB film co-production "Angry Inuk" 2017