Sealing advocates applaud idea of federal funding, but not approach

The government's support for the sealing industry, as announced in this week's federal budget, is getting mixed reviews from advocates.

Magdalen Islands seal hunting advocate calls funding announcement 'weird'

A worker at Always In Vogue in St. John's makes a pair of seal skin mittens to sell at the store. Gil Theriault, with the Magdalen Islands Seal Hunters Association, says products like seal skin boots 'fly off the shelves' in the Magdalen Islands, Que. (CBC)

Sealing advocates from across Canada are excited the federal government is putting money into the industry, but some say the new fund's focus on marketing is the wrong approach. 

This week's federal budget included the $5.7-million fund, which rolls out over five years and is specifically targeted at ensuring Inuit can make use of an exemption to the European Union's seal ban

"Clearly it seems like European people have decided that seal hunting was immoral," says Gil Theriault with the Magdalen Islands Seal Hunters Association. 

"I'm not sure that we should insist on trying to sell them those products, especially when we know that there is market right here at home."

Theriault calls the funding announcement "weird."

In the Magdalen Islands, Que., Theriault says sealskin boots fly off the shelves and a local butcher finds it hard to keep up with the growing demand for seal meat. 

If it were up to him, the fund would focus on making sure sealers can harvest enough fur for a viable industry and ensuring the quality of products is high.

"We should all definitely work together to address those real problems, real challenges and real opportunities."

Funding sends 'huge' message

Bernie Halloran says, regardless of how this money will be spent, including funding for the industry in the budget sends a "huge" message. 
Bernie Halloran, owner of Always in Vogue, says the fact that the government is providing funding for the sealing industry is 'huge,' regardless of how it is spent. (CBC)

"The country should be behind us," says Halloran, who owns Always in Vogue, a high-end seal skin fashion store in St. John's. "Canada should be behind the seal industry."

While the five-year investment seems to focus on the traditional hunt, Halloran says any support will help strengthen sealing industry overall.

"The Inuit obviously are the forefathers of the seal industry."

Both Theriault and Halloran say the Inuit concept of using the entire seal, including fur, meat and oil, is key to the future of the industry. 

"We're working very closely with [the North]," says Theriault, who regularly works with sealers in both Nunavut and Newfoundland and Labrador. 

And when it comes to expanding markets, both sealing advocates see Asia as potentially fertile ground. 

"To me the tides are turning," says Halloran, who recently got into the seal processing business

"I think it's a great time to be in the business."


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