12th Apr 2021

Nordic hunters say EU seal ban wastes resources

  • Säl Hylje Sel: Nordic chefs received EU money to come up with new seal dishes (Photo: private pics)

As Canadian anger over the recent EU seal product ban grows, potentially putting an EU-Canada trade pact in danger, Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian hunters who legally cull seal but have to bury or burn the cadavers consider the ban to be a waste of a good resource.

Between the years 2000 and 2007, coastal regions in the three Nordic states received money from Brussels to come up with new techniques to make use of the seal carcasses which are culled every year in order to protect the local fishing industry.

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The project, named "Seal: A common resource," received over €300,000 from the EU Interreg Programme (for inter-regional co-operation), and included, among other things, workshops on how to treat seal skin after culling and DVDs on hunting techniques.

Manuals on seal skin use for clothing, bags and furniture were printed and colleges in Finland and Sweden introduced seal skin design into their student curricula.

Students from the Finnish region of Ostrobothnia even created the collection "SEALS - Sensational Exclusive Accessories Luxurious Seductive," featuring garments made of seal fur mixed with silk and crystals. The clothes were paraded at a leather fair in Paris.

The jewel of the EU project was the cookbook "Säl Hylje Sel," named after the three words for "seal" in Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian, respectively, including recipies from 12 renowned chefs to create a "modern, trendy seal cuisine."

Recipies in the book include "seal Wellington," a version of the famous "beef Wellington" dish: a tender seal fillet coated with pate and mushroom duxelles, wrapped in puff pastry and baked.

For the more globalised palette, the chefs suggest a simple seal wok with jasmine rice and sweet and sour sauce.

"I think we have a reasonable approach to seal hunting: we want to make use of the animals we kill. Otherwise it is a complete waste of a good resource," Ake Granstrom, the project manager behind the book, told Euobserver.

In an additional irony, "Säl Hylje Sel" will now be translated be a Canadian publisher into French and English to be distributed in Canada.

No seal, no booze

Across the Atlantic, Canadian anger over the EU ban reached new heights when late last month lawmakers in the northern territory of Nunavut, home to large seal-hunting Inuit communities, voted to remove European alcohol from its government-run liquor stores, in a symbolic retaliation.

"That was the whole intent of it, to get the message across that we're not happy and it's not just here in Nunavut," Fred Schell, a member of the territory's legislative assembly, told Canadian media.

Mr. Schell compared the boycot of EU liquor to that of South-African wines during apartheid-times.

The EU law, put together last year, forbids trade in all seal products, including skins, meat, blubber and oil, which is used in Omega-3 pills, with MEPs claiming that Canada's annual, commercial seal hunt is inherently cruel.

The ban was a response to animal welfare concerns but was also seen as a populist move ahead of elections to the EU parliament, with MEPs appealing to voters touched by pictures of wide-eyed baby seals.

"The seal ban raises a question of principle. The Canadian hunt is sustainable, humane and well-monitored. Independent assessments confirm this yet the EU proceeded with a ban that has no basis in fact or science," the Canadian ambassador to the EU, Ross Hornby, told Euobserver.

WTO has last word

Canada believes the ban is in breach of international trade rules, and has, alongside Norway, filed an official complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO). Inuit communities from both Canada and Greenland have also filed cases at the EU court in Luxembourg.

Inuit and other traditional seal-hunting communities in the Arctic are exempt from the new EU rules. But Inuits say that their livelihoods will be affected nevertheless, as trading bans destroy the market for seal products.

Conservative MEP Christofer Fjellner from the European Parliament's trade committee said the ban could become a stumbling block in the negotiations for a proposed free trade pact between Canada and the EU, which could be worth €70 billion a year.

"Half of the time at our meetings with Canadians is used to discuss seals," he said. "A possible solution could be agreeing with Canada on how to hunt seals and that the prohibition concerns only those seals that were hunted in an inhumane way."


Meanwhile, a report on atrocities committed in large-scale seal hunting in Norway was released last month by inspectors from the country's fishery department, following a monitoring expedition.

The report described "trigger happy" sealers using three or four rounds of ammunition discharged from semi-automatic Kalashnikov rifles to kill seals, or shooting them on their way into the water, leading to a slow death caused by bleeding and drowning.

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The European Parliament has overwhelmingly voted in favour of banning seal products, with Canada - the biggest sealing nation and also the country on the cusp of a free trade agreement with the European Union - the legislation's main target.

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Canadian and Greenlandic Inuit groups are suing the European Union over its ban on seal products, and are very confident they will win, arguing that the hunt is neither inhumane nor environmentally unsustainable.


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