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Efforts to Close Seal Pelt Markets


Many countries have banned seal pelt and seal product imports, including the countries of the European Union and Russia.

Beater harp seal pup

The European Union initially banned imports of pelts from whitecoat seal pups (pups under about 2 weeks of age, before the molting stage) in 1983. This contributed to the near-destruction of the sealing industry. However, the Canadian government and sealing industry soon exploited a loophole in this law.

The Canadian government soon banned the killing of whitecoats, requiring sealers to wait a few extra days and then kill the raggedy jacket (molting) or beater (fully molted) seal pups. After several years, the market for seal fur was restored.

Closing the markets to seal products is the best way to end the commercial seal hunt. With little hope of making money on seal pelts, sealers will not find much motivation for going out into the treacherous icy waters to find and kill seals.

The United States banned imports of seal products as well as products from other marine mammals in 1972, with the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Still, the European Union countries and Asia produced enough demand to result in the killing of hundreds of thousands of seal pups.

But in recent years, the efforts to end the demand for seal pelts have borne fruit. Mexico, Germany, Belgium, Croatia, and the Netherlands enacted bans on seal product imports. (In the case of Mexico, this extended to all marine mammals and products from them.)

Then, in 2009, the European Union approved a ban on seal imports. This greatly reduced demand for seal pelts.

Most Canadian harp seal pelts are initially purchased by Carino, a division of Norwegian company G.C. Reiber and Co. Norway is not a member of the European Union and is therefore not directly affected by the EU ban on seal imports.

However, Norway does not provide the main market for the finished products (coats, boots, etc.). From Norway and other importing nations, the pelts or finished products used to be sold in Russia and European Union countries. Therefore the EU ban (which includes Cape fur seal product imports), dealt a major blow to Norway's seal pelt industry due to the closing of the European Union market.

This did not, however, eliminate sales of seal products to non-EU-member nations, such as Russia and Ukraine. Russia purchased about 95% of the seal products, making it by far the largest source of demand. However, in 2011, Russia, along with Belarus and Kazakhstan, banned harp seal product imports (but still has not banned Cape fur seal product imports). Taiwan also banned seal imports. This has destroyed most of the market for seal pelts worldwide.

An excerpt from the article

Russia bans import of seal products: animal welfare group

By Michael MacDonald , The Canadian Press
Date: Monday Dec. 19, 2011 4:26 PM ET

The federal Fisheries Department says up to 90 per cent of Canada's exports of harp seal pelts have been shipped to Russia in the past, most of which were first exported to Norway. But the industry's global market shrank considerably in 2009 when the 27-member European Union introduced its own trade ban.

The United States banned importing seal products in 1972.

Though Canada's sealing industry represents a tiny fraction of the East Coast's fishing industry, the annual hunt looms large on the region's political landscape -- particularly in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the majority of the country's 11,000 registered seal hunters live.



Now, Canada is spending taxpayers' money trying to build markets in Asia, especially China. In China, the Canadian trade delegations are also pushing seal meat, which has been rejected by nearly everyone in the world due to its foul taste. This has resulted in a backlash among Chinese people who reject the notion that they will be a market for any and all animal flesh.

From a press release by Beijing's Animal Welfare Association,

"Chinese Activists to Canadian Fishing Industry: Stop the Seal Hunt or Face Seafood Boycott in China"

November 08, 2012 10:59 ET

protest in ChinaOn November 6, 2012, the opening day of the 17th China Fisheries and Seafood Expo in Dalian, Northeast China, a large Canadian fisheries delegation met with a strong protest from Chinese activists. More than 30 Chinese activists converged in Dalian from different cities across China, and presented to the Canadian exhibitors an open letter asking the Canadian fishing industry and government to stop viewing China as a dumping ground for the cruel seal products. A huge banner reading, "Canada, Stop Seal Hunt or Face Seafood Boycott in China" caught the attention of hundreds of exhibitors and visitors in the crowded international section of the Expo.

"The Canadian government is making a colossal mistake in promoting seal products in China," said Dan Zhang, a Beijing based activist, upon learning of the protest in Dalian. "China will never become a dumping ground for products of cruelty that have been rejected by Canadians and the world community alike. Given commercial fishermen are killing the seals in Canada, it is not surprising that the backlash against seal product trade in China is now spreading to Canadian seafood. Chinese activists are determined to launch a nationwide boycott of Canadian seafood products unless Canada stops marketing seal products in our country."


You can help end demand for seal products. If you live in a country that still allows seal product imports, write to your leaders/representatives and ask them to join the many nations that have banned these imports.

Carino is trying to hide the identities of the companies that are still buying the seal pelts and the countries from which they hail. You can help us find the companies that are importing and using seal fur: if you read Chinese, please search for Chinese companies and web sites that are advertising seal products or seal garments. If you read any other language, please search for companies and websites in your language. Let us know what you find.

In this photo, from PMO, Canadian Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo is shown shaking hands with President Obama, in Washington, D.C., wearing a seal skin tie. The Minister committed a crime by entering the United States with this garment made of a marine mammal.

Smuggling of Seal Products into the United States

Despite the ban on imports of seal products into the U.S., some seal products are getting into the country. Seal oil has been smuggled into the U.S., and one group of smugglers was arrested.

Seal pelts may be getting into the U.S., too, through commercial enterprises as well as on individual persons. In the photo above of former U.S. President Obama and former Canadian Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo, Mr. Tootoo met with Obama wearing a seal skin tie. This is a federal crime in the United States.

Marine mammals are protected in the U.S. According to this FWS document, it is illegal to enter the U.S. wearing a garment made from seals:

Personal or Household effects

Wildlife products or manufactured articles that are not intended for sale may enter or leave the United States through any Customs port if they are:
Worn as clothing.
Contained in accompanying personal baggage.
Part of a household move.

The exception for personal or household effects does not apply to:

Packages mailed into the United States.
Raw or dressed furs or skins.
Game trophies.
Endangered or threatened wildlife.
Injurious wildlife.
Certain CITES species.
Marine mammals





Sealing interests brought a case before the General Court of the European Union - again - in an effort to overturn the EU ban on seal product imports

sporranThe Canadian Fur Institute led a group that included a handful of Inuit traders and a Scottish manufacturer of men's purses made from animal skins (called 'sporrans').

Case T-526/10 was virtually a repeat of the case T-18/10 RII-INTP. In fact, in their pleas, the plaintiffs stated that they “repeat the arguments put forward in support of their claims in Case T-18/10.”

They added only the claim that the Commission has abused its powers, aiming in reality to block any sales of pelts in the European Union, without exception.

The Court handed down its ruling April 25, 2013: The case has been dismissed, leaving the EU ban on seal pelts intact.

The Court said, "The General Court confirms that the objective of the basic regulation, which is the improvementof the conditions of functioning of the internal market, taking into account the protection of animal welfare, cannot be satisfactorily achieved by action undertaken only in the Member States and requires action at EU level."

Read the full press release from the General Court here.




In the spring of 2013, the World Trade Organization (WTO) heard arguments in the case brought by Canada and Norway against the 2009 ban on imports of seal pelts and other seal products into the European Union. Canada and Norway filed a complaint with the WTO in an attempt to force the European Union to repeal the ban, which has contributed to the closing of worldwide markets for seal pelts.

Canada has tried to claim that the seal slaughter is humane. But it has to counter direct evidence to the contrary that was obtained by EU representatives. "Canada, while beginning with a broad-based defense of sealing as humane, then stakes its case on the notion that things have improved considerably since most of the evidence mustered by the EU was gathered. The period mentioned by Canada is five years, no accident perhaps since it was five years ago that the deliberative process occurred that led to the EU ban. Canada seems to be implicitly acknowledging that its practices were not up to snuff from the time of growing public concern about the seal hunt in the 60s through 2008 but once the EU ban was in place, or about to be put into place, it suggests it began to pull up its socks," wrote Robert Howse, the Lloyd C. Nelson Professor of International Law at NYU School of Law. (See his blog with more from the WTO hearings here.)

A ban based on moral considerations is legitimate under the governing laws of the WTO. But Canada has argued that opinion polls that were considered by the EU in deciding to ban seal imports were not sufficient to determine the public sense of morality regarding sealing. "Canada’s reasoning is that the opinion polls indicate that the attitudes of EU citizens are based on limited knowledge of the Canadian hunt. One only wonders what Canada would say about the beliefs of Hindus in India about cows, if it were now to go on to challenge that country’s restrictions on bovine meat. Would it bring scientists to the panel hearing to “prove” that it is unreasonable for Hindus to think of cows as deserving treatment as “sacred” animals? In fact, the Appellate Body makes it very clear in US-Gambling and China-Publications that opinion polls aren’t required, nor a Habermas-type ideal-speech situation, in order for ”public morals” to be invoked. The moral views don’t have to be those of everyone in society, and the government doesn’t have to quiz the populace to determine their rationality or level of knowledge in order to enact measures based on public morals," according to Prof. Howse.

"After continuously insisting that what is humane or not is a matter for science and not for uniformed public opinion, Canada now said that the term “humane” had certain “subjective” qualities and that a “careful scientist” scientist would refrain from making a determination of what is “humane” or not, presumably leaving that to the value judgments of politicians or the public," Howse wrote.

In addition to testimony from Canada and Norway, the WTO heard from other countries (third parties), including the U.S. (in favor of the EU seal import ban), Iceland and Japan (against the ban), and Namibia (killer of Cape fur seal pups) gave it's testimony in secret.

On April 29, 2013, the WTO held the second round of hearings and a public viewing. The Canadian and Norwegian contingent again spread misinformation and claimed that the slaughter was humane.



(November, 25, 2013) The WTO ruled today on the European Union's (EU) ban on imports of seal products from commercial sealing operations. This affects the Canadian seal 'hunt', in which over 339,000 harp seal pups were killed since the import ban was passed in 2009, and the massacre of Cape fur seals (80,000 nursing pups and 6,000 bulls each year) in Namibia.

Canada flagCanada, Namibia, and Norway challenged this EU ban, alleging that it was an unfair barrier to free trade. The WTO held hearings in the spring of 2013, in which representatives from these countries claimed that the killing is humane and well-regulated.

The European Union responded, with help from NGO's that have monitored the Canadian seal 'hunt', such as IFAW and HSI, providing evidence that the killing is inhumane. The U.S. also testified at the hearings in favor of maintaining the import ban. Read the testimony of third party countries including Mexico, the U.S., and Japan here.

Today, the WTO issued its ruling. "The panel determined that the EU Seal Regime is a technical regulation and that the EU Seal Regime does not violate Article 2.2 of the TBT Agreement because it fulfils the objective of addressing EU public moral concerns on seal welfare to a certain extent, and no alternative measure was demonstrated to make an equivalent or greater contribution to the fulfilment of the objective."

The WTO did raise objections to the exemptions given to certain Inuit (indigenous) communities, a small number of whom are engaged in international trade of seal products. "The panel concluded that the IC [indigenous communities] exception under the EU Seal Regime violates Article I:1 of the GATT 1994 because an advantage granted by the European Union to seal products originating in Greenland (specifically, its Inuit population) is not accorded immediately and unconditionally to the like products originating in Norway."

The panel also objected to the exemption in the EU rule for seal products that are obtained from hunts conducted for purposes of 'marine resource management' (MRM). "With respect to the MRM exception, the panel found that it violates Article III:4 of the GATT 1994 because it accords imported seal products treatment less favourable than that accorded to like domestic seal products. The panel also found that the IC exception and the MRM exception are not justified under Article XX(a) of the GATT 1994 (“necessary to protect public morals”) because they fail to meet the requirements under the chapeau of Article XX (“not applied in a manner that would constitute arbitrary or unjustified discrimination where the same conditions prevail or a disguised restriction on international trade”)."

The summary of the WTO ruling can be found here. The full texts of the ruling are here (400R) and here (Appendices: 400RA1).

Harpseals.org believes that exemptions and exceptions to the EU ban on seal product imports are unnecessary and should be removed from the EU regulations. This will resolve the issues raised by the WTO.

Inuit hunting of seals should be permitted only insofar as it is necessary for the survival of the communities that still engage in subsistence hunting. Trade in seal products by Inuit should come under the EU ban, without exceptions. For more on our take on Inuit sealing read our FAQ's.

Sealing should not be allowed as part of resource management measures. Seals are an important part of the marine ecosystem. They are not the cause of the depletion of fish stocks. The problems that fishermen are seeing around the globe arise from over-fishing; destructive, industrial fishing practices like bottom trawling, long lining, and purse seining; man-made pollution of the oceans with plastic waste, radioactive waste (including the large amount of radioactive wastewater dumped into the Pacific ocean by Japan), and chemical waste, which is building up in the bodies of fish and marine mammals; and climate change, which is acidifying the oceans (causing losses of coral reefs and weakening the shells of crustaceans), changing ocean currents, raising the temperature of the oceans, and melting Arctic, sub-Arctic, and Antarctic ice (which is causing polar bears and ice seals to drown in large numbers).


The biggest news of 2014:

The Seals Win! Canada Loses Appeal of the WTO Ruling, Allowing the EU Seal Product Import Ban to Stand


The WTO Appellate Body "upheld the Panel's finding that the EU Seal Regime is 'necessary to protect public morals.'"

Read the WTO Dispute Resolution summaries here. The last appeal summary is at the bottom of the page.

From March 17 to March 19, hearings took place in Geneva in Canada and Norway's appeal of the WTO decision last year to allow the 2009 EU seal product import ban to stand. Canada's Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq argued that the seal slaughter is humane, and the WTO should overturn its decision. Last year, the WTO found that the EU ban was justified because EU citizens deemed the seal slaughter morally reprehensible. We wholeheartedly agree.

"The Appellate Body also upheld the Panel's conclusion that the EU Seal Regime is inconsistent with Article I:1 because it does not “immediately and unconditionally” extend the same market access advantage to Canadian and Norwegian seal products that it accords to seal products originating from Greenland."

We believe that the EU should eliminate the inconsistency by banning all seal products, whether from Greenland, Canada's Inuit traders, or fishermen who legally cull seals in Europe. Furthermore, we believe that there is no scientific or moral justification for culling seals in Europe, so this practice must stop.


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