Quebec company touts seal meat as 'Canadian superfood'

SeaDNA's campaign says seal meat is leaner than domesticated beef and chicken, and has no added hormones or antibiotics.

SeaDNA's campaign says seal meat is leaner and healthier than domesticated beef and chicken

SeaDNA is trying to market seal meat as a healthier alternative. (Canadian Press)

Jonas Gilbart likes his seal steaks rare on the inside with a hard sear on the outside.

"I love the taste and I love the nutritional benefits,'' he said of a meat choice that's still outside the food comfort zone for most Canadians.

Gilbart's helping lead a new campaign for Quebec-based supplier SeaDNA touting seal as "the Canadian superfood'' with a "unique and inviting taste'' similar to beef.

"It comes from our backyard, it's sustainably harvested from our waters and monitored by our government,'' Gilbart said.

"Everything is on the up, and because of the stigma attached to the industry over the years, it probably doesn't get the recognition it deserves.''

Jonas Gilbart says the milder taste often surprises first-time consumers of seal meat. (CBC)

SeaDNA's processing sites in Newfoundland and the Magdalen Islands supply flippers and seal cuts across Canada.

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A few eateries are featuring seal on the menu year-round, including Caribou Gourmand in Montreal. 

It offers harp seal tataki, where the meat is briefly seared, sliced thinly and served in a beer reduction with "young sprouts and lichen.''

Cooked seal is often compared to a sort of fishy liver. Gilbart said the milder taste of raw preparations often surprises first-time consumers.

SeaDNA's campaign says seal meat is leaner than domesticated beef and chicken, and has no added hormones or antibiotics.

The company's products were used in a menu item that stirred controversy last month when Toronto restaurant Kukum Kitchen offered seal tartare.

Chef Joseph Shawana stands in his kitchen at Kū-kŭm restaurant. (Grant Linton/CBC)

An online petition attacking the commercial seal hunt was met with a counter petition defending Indigenous traditions.

The restaurant's Aboriginal chef, Joseph Shawana, said he spent months doing research and chose an ethical supplier.

Reaction in support of Kukum Kitchen is a sign of shifting awareness, Gilbart said.

"Canadians are more knowledgeable about the truth of the industry. This is a regulated hunt like anything else.''

Some critics of animal welfare tactics say an unfair focus on photogenic seals diverts attention from more cruel and more common practices in raising chicken and pork for consumption.

Still, celebrities such as Paul McCartney have campaigned to end Canada's commercial seal hunt, while imports of seal products are banned in the U.S. and Europe.

A dish of seal meat is shown in this image. (Canadian Press)

'It's a hunt for fur'

Sheryl Fink, a spokeswoman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said SeaDNA's campaign is just the latest bid over the last 30 years to commercially market meat that is typically wasted.

"It's a hunt for fur,'' she said in an interview. "The markets for meat just haven't taken off and it hasn't been for a lack of trying. I think it's just a lack of demand and a lack of interest.''

Fink is among critics who question government support for an industry in decline.

She notes that just 4,460 commercial sealing licenses were issued in Newfoundland and Labrador this year, down from 13,289 in 2003.