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Fisheries Minister Gail Shea responds during Question Period in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Sept.30, 2009.Adrian Wyld

After years of battling Europeans, pop stars and animal rights activists over the controversial seal hunt, Canadian officials think they have finally found a more receptive market for seal products – China.

On Wednesday, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea signed a co-operative arrangement with Chinese officials that she said will give Canada's sealing industry access to the world's largest consumer market. Perhaps fittingly, the deal was signed while Ms. Shea and a group of Canadian business people were attending the China Fur and Leather Products Fair in Beijing. Needless to say, there were no fur protesters in sight.

The agreement "will allow the export of edible seal products from Canada, such as meat and oil, to China," Ms. Shea said. "For Canada, sealing is about more than fur. The trade of other seal products, such as oils and meat, represents a growing share of what is already a multimillion-dollar business."

Canadian officials have spent years wooing the Chinese. Ms. Shea's discussions began during last year's Beijing fur show. Many Canadian politicians and industry players believe Chinese consumers are open to wearing sealskin and eating seal meat. They also hope that Chinese purchases will revive Canada's seal industry, which has been hit hard by a ban on many seal products imposed last year by the European Union.

The ban has helped drive down prices for seal pelts, which sank to $19 on average last year at some major auctions, from $38 in 2009 and $56 in 2008. Pelts went for as much as $67 on average in 2006. The number of seals harvested annually has also fallen steadily, dropping to fewer than 70,000 last year from around 300,000 in 2005. Only about 6,000 people derive some income from seal hunting and total exports are roughly $10-million annually.

Animal rights activists claim the industry is on its last legs and they are vowing to take their anti-seal-hunt campaign to China. "Chinese people care just as much about animals as the citizens of Europe and America," said Lu Di, director of China Small Animal Protection Association, in a statement Wednesday. "My organization and many others will work to ensure China never becomes a significant market for Canadian seal products."

Sheryl Fink, director of the seal program at the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Toronto, said Canadian officials are wrong to think they can count on Chinese consumers to buy seal products.

"This general attitude that we can dump the products that the rest of the world doesn't want on China, because of this sense that they have a lack of understanding of animal welfare or that they won't care about the cruelty in the seal hunt – I think that's a little bit insulting," Ms. Fink said, adding: "It's along the lines of we dump our asbestos on the rest of the world.

"Europe doesn't want our seal products, Canadians by and large don't consume seal products on a large scale, and so now we are kind of turning to China with this attitude that, they'll take it, they'll take anything," she said.

But Ms. Shea's announcement won praise from an Inuit group that is spearheading a challenge of the EU ban in a European court.

"The size of the Chinese market and rapid growth of the Chinese economy makes this particularly good news for Inuit and our interests in expanding our market opportunities for sealskin products," said Mary Simon, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national Inuit organization. "I'm pleased that the Chinese government has seen through the myths and distortions that have been widely disseminated by animal-rights extremists in other parts of the world, such as Europe. We want to create a stable and secure future for our seal hunters."

Number of seals harvested (approx.)


After E.U. ban










Total trade



Source: European Commission

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