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Canada's seal hunt

Sealing is a way of life and a valuable source of food and income for Canadian Inuit and for thousands of Canadian families in remote coastal communities. The European Union's ban on imports of Canadian seal products threatens this traditional way of life.

Sealing takes place off the Newfoundland coast and near the Magdalene Islands, as well as in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence and Canada's Inuit regions (Nunavut, Nunavik, Inuvialuit and Nunatsiavut). Sealing in Nunavut represents between $4 million to $6 million of food each year. Before the European Union seal ban, incomes from seal pelts could reach up to $1 million annually. Those incomes allowed Inuit to buy the equipment and gas necessary to continue to hunt, thus provide then with a crucial source of food.

Overall, the sealing industry provides part-time employment for up to 6,000 people. Using available data, a conservative estimate would put the value of the hunt at $35-40 million annually. Sealing can represent from 25-35% of sealers' total annual income; it is a very significant economic contributor to communities with limited economic opportunities.

Seals are not just used for their fur. Seal oil is higher in omega-3 oils than fish oils and has been sold in capsule form in Europe, Asia and Canada for 10 years. Researchers are also looking into the possibility of using harp seal valves as replacements in human heart valve transplants.

While Canada respects an individual's choice to support or oppose the seal hunt, it encourages people to form their opinions based on the facts. The facts are thatCanada's seal hunt is well managed and humane, with rigorous animal welfare principles that are internationally recognized by independent observers. The European Food Safety Authority, in a 2007 report, concluded that the approved methods used to harvest seals in Canada are humane.

The Canadian seal harvest is also sustainable. The Atlantic harp seal population is healthy and abundant; it is currently estimated at 6.9 million animals, and has more than tripled its size to what it was in the 1970s.

In addition, Canada monitors the seal harvest closely, including ongoing aerial patrols, sophisticated vessel monitoring systems, at-sea and dockside vessel inspections, and regular inspections of processing facilities. Canada is also committed to enforcing the seal harvest regulations to the fullest extent of the law and interacts regularly with the sealing industry to make sure that sealers fully understand and carry out their obligations under licence conditions and regulations.

The EU seal ban

Canada is against the European Union ban on the import of seal products, which entered into force on 20 August 2010. As per the measures in place, seal products can only be placed on the European Union market if they are accompanied by an "attestation" from a "recognized body" confirming that they qualify as either: 1) seal products resulting from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities; or 2) seal products resulting from hunts conducted for the sole purpose of sustainable management of marine resources, and on a non-profit basis. Small amounts of seal products may also be imported for personal use by travellers. 

It is important to note that the process and requirements for Canadian Inuit to export seal products into the European Union remain unclear. In addition, Inuit groups have stated that past experience with the European Union's 1983 ban on seal pup skins has shown that allowing Inuit-derived products while banning all others does not work in terms of preserving a market for Inuit products, as the general ban effectively destroys the market for all seal products.

In addition, despite the fact that the genesis of the movement to ban seal products is rooted in animal welfare concerns, the European Union authorities saw fit not to include an exemption for humanely killed seal products in the context of commercial hunts such as that of Canada.  In the past, Canada has invited the European Union and others to work toward developing international sealing standards. Canada continues to advocate this proposal in the firm belief that international sealing standards, rather than an import ban, are the best way to address animal welfare concerns.

Canada's challenge at the World Trade Organization

Canada believes that the European Union's ban on imports of Canadian seal products is inconsistent with its international trade obligations. This is why Canada initiated a World Trade Organization dispute settlement process in the fall of 2009. By moving ahead with this challenge, Canada is reiterating its commitment to defend the Canadian sealing industry and the coastal and northern communities that depend on the seal harvest. Canada is also sending a clear message to the international community that Canada will not allow to go unchallenged trade barriers that have no basis in scientific fact.

At Canada's request, the World Trade Organization has established a dispute settlement panel that will examine the European Union seal ban regulation. Canada hopes that the World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel will cast meaningful light on these European Union measures. Norway is also opposed to the European Union seal ban and has joined Canada as a co-complainant in this dispute.

Related Information


European Union

World Trade Organisation



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