Inuit Defend Canada’s Seal Hunt

Part of their culture for millennia, recent bans on seal hunting endanger their food security and traditional way of life.

Animals rights groups have been fighting since the 1960’s to shut down the sealskin trade. Using graphic campaigns featuring fluffy seal pups being bludgeoned by hunters, opposition to seal hunting mounted. In 1983, Greenpeace and other groups were finally successful in getting the European Union to ban sealskin products made from white coat harp seal pups.

Seven in ten Inuit children go to school hungry. Inuit communities have the highest poverty, unemployment rates and cost of living in North America.

Source: Angry Inuk

Even though the legislation targeted only one kind of sealskin, the campaigners ruined the reputation for all types of sealskin.

At the time, little thought was given to the impact the ban would have on the Inuit. 

Although the Inuit were exempt from the ban, the market for sealskin evaporated. A year later, the average income of an Inuit seal hunter in Resolute Bay fell from 53 thousand dollars to one thousand dollars. Suicide rates were already climbing in Inuit communities and spiked to become the highest in the world

“I wanted to make this film because it bothered me when I saw animal welfare groups portray seal hunting as an evil and greedy thing,” says Arnaquq-Baril director of Angry Inuk.

Few people outside of the Arctic realize how crucial seals are to the Inuit economy and way of life. But education is key, “I think people are interested in opening their eyes to the bigger picture. We want to tell where the seal comes from, who caught it, who prepared the skin, where the meat went.”

Inuit hunt seal all over the Arctic.

Anti-sealing organizations target much-publicized commercial seal hunts that happen off the coast of  Newfoundland and in the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence in southern Canada every spring. 

Inuit seal hunters hunt all over the Canadian Arctic as well as Alaska, Greenland and Russia. They never hunted the baby whitecoat harp seal pups targeted by the anti-sealing campaigns — illegal in Canada since 1987.  They hunt mostly ringed seals, as well as harp seals, that are adults by the time they’ve migrated that far north.

Inuit eat seal meat.

Seal meat is lean with less than two percent fat. It's also rich in iron, zinc, vitamins A, D, B and C. It's a free, local and inexpensive food source that offers much better nutrition than what you can often buy in Arctic stores.  As  Arnaquq-Baril points out, food is expensive in the Arctic and Canada’s Inuit communities are the most food insecure in the country.

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Food insecurity, hunger, and the high cost of other options are just some of the practical reasons why the seal skin market is so important to Inuit.
Inuit wear sealskin

Inuit require the fur to stay warm. The skin is also used for waterproof, biodegradable clothing such as boots, mittens and hats which can be sold internationally.

Since the international market for sealskin collapsed in the 1980’s, it’s been difficult for Inuit designers to sell their wares. 

The sealskin market is an important income to the Inuit

Inuit have few economic options and the income from seal hunting supports their lifestyle. Although Inuit hunt often more seals annually than southern Canadian hunters, they hunt on a small scale consistently year-round and sell their skins to government officers who take them to international markets. Commercial sealing has been part of their livelihood for over a century. The money allows them to buy gas fuel and other hunting supplies so they are able to go out and hunt for their community.

Nunavut won an exemption to the EU’s ban on seal imports and in 2015, the Canadian government announced  $5.7 million in funding to create a certification and tracking system so that indigenous seal products could be marketed in Europe. Although there are hopes that these measures will improve sales, Inuit leaders insist the bans on seal products in Europe and the United States must be repealed or replaced with more sensitive legislation in order for sealskin products to grow into a thriving industry and support Arctic communities.

Seals are not endangered

According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the seal population is healthy and abundant. None of the seals hunted commercially are at risk, and are indeed listed by CITES as a species of least concern. Only adult seals are hunted.

Indigenous hunters living above 53 latitude in Canada are not required to have licenses or abide by any TAC’s (total allowable catches).  Although Inuit are a tiny minority of the southern Canadian seal hunts, the majority of commercial sealers in Canada and around the world are Inuit.