Sales of Canadian seal products could get a lift if the federal Fisheries Department adopts a plan that, among other things, calls for the revival of the controversial seal penis trade, a key supporter of the East Coast seal hunt says.
The report, drafted by the Fur Institute of Canada, is aimed at creating new markets to support an earlier proposal to kill 140,000 grey seals over five years in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence — 70 per cent of the grey seals that frequent the area.
Fishermen have long complained that a growing population of grey seals is to blame for eating too many commercially valuable fish, which has resulted in repeated calls for a cull.
The Fur Institute says its five-year plan, dated March 2014, focuses on creating markets for a number of products that could be derived using every part of the seal carcass.
"The penises of juvenile and adult animals may be dried and sold as sexual enhancement products, particularly to Asian buyers," says the report, obtained through the access to information act.
"Asian consumers, particularly athletes, also consume a beverage called Dalishen Oral Liquid that is made from seal penis and testicles, which they believe to be energizing and performance enhancing."
Officials at the Fisheries Department declined an interview, but said in an emailed response that they were considering the report.
"Reports such as the one from FIC will help inform the government as it considers various options for grey seal population management with the goal of fostering a viable, self-sustaining industry," states the email.
Dion Dakins, chairman of the committee that wrote the study, said the decision to develop a market for seal penises stems from the belief that no parts of the carcass should be wasted.
"What the proposal does is it provides a 100 per cent utilization of the animal, recognizing that seal organs — sexual or non-sexual — do have market value," he said in an interview. "The Fur Institute ignores any industry proponents (supporting) ... the harvest of seals just for the penises."
Controversy surrounding the sale of Canadian seal penises hasn't attracted headlines since the late 1990s when the International Fund for Animal Welfare filed a lawsuit against the federal Fisheries minister, claiming the trade was the most cruel aspect of the seal hunt.
At the time, the penises were being sold for up to $650 each. The market shrivelled after Viagra appeared on the scene, though a much smaller market still exists.
"A niche market within a very large global population is more than enough," said Dakins, CEO of Newfoundland's Carino Processing Ltd., the world's largest seal processing facility.
Still, Ottawa has yet to commit any funds to the plan, he said.
"But there's been a continuing dialogue about the need to manage the grey seals and a commercially viable option is certainly better than a cost to taxpayers," Dakins said.
The animal welfare group condemned the report.
"It is an outrageous sign of desperation that our government is now considering wasting ... tax dollars to peddle seal penis potions as aphrodisiacs," said Sheryl Fink, spokeswoman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
"Surely this money could be better used to directly benefit fishermen and rural communities in Atlantic Canada."
The Fur Institute's plan calls for a squad of five fishing boats carrying a total of 40 hunters to kill seals for nine months of the year. The study says the hunters could be equipped with Beretta 9 mm semi-automatic rifles with silencers. The use of silencers, needed to prevent spooking the animals, would require legislative changes as such equipment is banned in Canada.
The total cost of implementing the plan would be around $9 million, assuming buyers could be found to pay up to $4 million in the first year for about 70,000 carcasses.
The number of grey seals taken during the annual East Coast hunt is typically a fraction of the number of harp seals killed off northeastern Newfoundland, southern Labrador and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The market for harp seals has largely dried up amid a rising number of trade bans, particularly in Europe.
The federal government has set this year's allowable catch limits at 400,000 harp seals, 60,000 grey seals and 8,000 hooded seals, but it's unlikely more than 30,000 harp seals will be taken this year, says the Canadian Sealers Association.
Still, the Fur Institute says markets for grey seal meat, pelts and oil could be created through a five-year, $5-million market access fund — paid for by Ottawa, the Atlantic provinces and Quebec — that would be used to develop a communications strategy.
That strategy would target large ethnic minority neighbourhoods and food clubs in Canada's largest cities, as well as foreign buyers in Korea, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and South America.
The non-profit institute says grey seal meat can be used to make "an infinite range of entrees to suit various ethnic tastes."