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Canada gearing up to sell seal meat to China

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

China has agreed to buy seal meat and seal oil from Canada, according to the federal fisheries minister.

"[We are] natural partners in the seafood industry," Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said this week during a trade mission to China with Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman.

Shea said the deal between Canada and China will be signed Thursday.

"For the most part, our sealing industry derives its income from the sale of pelts," said Shea, in Beijing during a conference call with reporters.

"They don't get a lot of return from the sale of meat and oil, but what we are hoping to do because China is such a large market is work with our industry to support them in developing new products ... so there is a lot of optimism in the industry today."

The price for seal pelts, which was at a high of more than $100 each a few years ago, sank to as low as $15 last year.

Gail said it is not possible to say what the value of the deal is now. She said the market will determine that.

European seal ban in effect

The European Union imposed a ban on imports of Canadian seal products in 2009.

Seal products from traditional Inuit hunts for subsistence are exempt from the ban, but Inuit groups challenged the general ban, arguing it would make it more difficult for them to sell their products. That argument was rejected in October by European Court of Justice Judge Marc Jaeger, who said the Inuit didn't provide evidence to justify their fears.

Animal protection groups applauded the decision.

Earlier this year, the Canadian government said the ban is unacceptable. It's pursuing a complaint at the World Trade Organization.

Research by the federal Fisheries Department has found that the harp seal population of Atlantic Canada is now at between eight and nine million animals. A 2004 assessment of seal stocks estimated the harp seal population in the area at between 4.6 and 7.2 million.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.