Government invests half-million dollars in seal meat

The Canadian and Newfoundland and Labrador governments are putting $498,000 into a pilot project to develop value-added seal meat products.

Money will help develop seal products and find new markets

Fisheries minister Gail Shea announces funding for a seal meat pilot project at a seal products boutique in St. john's on Friday. (CBC)

The Canadian and Newfoundland and Labrador governments are putting $498,000 into a pilot project to develop value-added seal meat products. 

Gail Shea, the federal fisheries minister, said in St. John's on Friday that the money will fund a a pilot project to develop frozen and vacuum-packed seal meat and get the products on to store shelves in specialty Canadian and international markets. 

The seal meat products will be developed by the Atlantic Seal Development Association, which will create about 20 jobs to process 20 tonnes of seal meat.

Newfoundland and Labrador has been trying to find markets for meat from seals such as these for more than two decades. (CBC)

Shannon Lewis, the association's director, said there is a market for seal meat in Canada. 

"Vancouver, Toronto, metropolitan areas and also some northern areas that we feel our data has shown is applicable to this product type," said Lewis. 

Foreign markets may be a challenge

However, finding foreign markets may be a challenge for the company. 

China, one of the biggest potential markets for seal meat, signed a trade deal with Canada three years ago, but still has not allowed seal meat to be imported. 

"I'm not one hundred per cent aware of what is holding that up," said Shea. "That would have to do with our trade department." 

The European Union has also closed its doors to seal products. 

Canada has been trying to challenge that ban on seal product imports through international trade rules without much success. 

My first reaction was almost laughter.- Sheryl Fink, IFAW

Sheryl Fink, the director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Seal campaign, called the seal meat investment a weak ploy to bring legitimacy to what her groups has described as an inhumane commercial hunt for fur. 

"My first reaction was almost laughter," said Fink. "Of all of the products to try and develop from seal, I think historically meat has been the most unsuccessful." 

Seal meat an 'acquired taste'

For more than two decades, the federal and provincial governments have been trying to drum up commercial interest in seal meat at home and abroad.

Seal meat, although high in Omega-3, is often described as pungent and stringy, and aficionados call it an "acquired taste."

The value of seal meat from the last commercial hunt was just $3,000. 

Still, Shea said consumers are ready to give seal meat a chance.

"I see a tremendous opportunity here, and maybe it's because I'm from the east coast, and for all of you from the east coast, you know what I'm talking about," said Shea.  

"This is an industry that's been around for generations." 

Lewis, of the Atlantic Seal Development Association said he remains hopeful.

"Markets will evolve. We have a feeling and a confidence that both nationally and internationally there's niche markets that we can go into," said Lewis. 

"It's a process that's going to evolve over time."