Marketing a priority for sealing industry

Steve Bartlett
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Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield

Sealing has been hit hard by low demand, a product ban within the European Union and protests from high-profile animal welfare groups.

The industry also finds itself standing anxiously on China’s doorstep, awaiting final approval to sell products to the world’s largest population.

So what does an industry facing such challenges and opportunity need from funding agencies like the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agencies (ACOA)?

The consensus among those involved — money for marketing.

“Marketing is the big thing,” said Bernard Cumby, whose company, Indian Bay Processors, closed last year because it couldn’t get enough seal meat.

Between 2000 and 2010, ACOA awarded nearly $1.3 million to a variety of seal-related projects.

In the two previous articles in this series, The Telegram has explored the mixed outcomes of those initiatives.

Included was Indian Bay Processors’ failed attempt at canning seal meat and producing things such as seal pepperoni in Centreville-Wareham.

Today’s piece looks at what kinds of initiatives will need funding from ACOA, and similar agencies, as the embattled industry rebuilds itself.

Every industry-type interviewed suggested support for marketing efforts was critical.

“There has to be a marketing campaign,” says Doug Bertram, CEO of Innovative Fishery Products, the Belliveau, N.S., company that used ACOA money to develop plant growth stimulators, protein and oils from seals, although it halted research due to negative response from clients.

ACOA has supported a handful of seal marketing initiatives in the past. Some of the businesses failed. Others have succeeded.

With the industry at a low point, there is an appetite for more of the latter.

Future marketing has to raise the industry’s profile by touting its strengths and potential, according to Frank Pinhorn, executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association.

That, as well as the accompanying promotions and public relations, are big issues for his organization.

“We have to take some of the aspects of the products and we have to build on them,” he said, using the health benefits of seal oil as an example.

People in the industry listed other types of endeavours where ACOA or federal funding would come in handy.

Pinhorn said successful work done from the mid-’80s to 2000 led to the development of seal oil capsules. He’d like to see a similar approach taken to developing seal meat and other seal products.

But, of course, ACOA is simply a funding agency. For it to support future seal marketing, science and/or production, someone in the industry — or willing to enter it — has to ask for assistance.

“As for future ACOA support for seal-related projects, or any project seeking funding from the agency, as always, this will be evaluated on the merits of each individual application, the potential economic benefit and the results of ACOA’s standard due diligence review process,” reads an email from a spokesman.

Despite the mixed success of past seal initiatives, it’s only a matter of time before new funding applications are submitted, as people in the industry believe sealing has a future.

Pinhorn said there are already indications next spring’s hunt will see a big improvement over the past three years, when less than 40,000 animals were taken.

And Innovative Fishery Products’ Bertram believes the seal harvest will have its day. The world needs protein and the hunt just makes common sense, he said.

“We, as a population, have to survive on nature. We’ll have to eat them eventually.”

Pinhorn noted several companies have approached him about putting together a seal promotions campaign for the Chinese market, something that would be similar to one done for northern shrimp a few years ago.

The need to get such an undertaking in place could be pressing if Pinhorn’s prediction comes true that Canadian seal products will enter China this spring and only grow from there.

“We think the potential is there. It’s only a matter of getting it started.”

Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, who travelled to China earlier this month, believes the same thing.

He met with numerous people during his mission and saw a demand.

“There’s a huge interest in China for seal meat products, edible seal meat products, and the hides, and for things like the Omega-3 oil that makes up part of those animals,” he told The Telegram Friday.

But funding from agencies like ACOA is only part of the federal support needed.

Pinhorn said Ottawa also has to finalize its trade agreement with China, and it can build the industry by helping Canadian sealers network with harvesters around the world.

As well, he stresses, the feds can assist by making education, training and certification mandatory for seal harvesters.

“We can’t afford to have sealers out there who don’t know the basic principles of what they are trying to do and how they are supposed to do it.”

Twitter: bartlett_steve

Organizations: Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agencies, European Union, Indian Bay Processors Innovative Fishery Products Canadian Sealers Association.That

Geographic location: China, Indian Bay, Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • Wolfman Jack
    November 22, 2011 - 15:47

    Nobody in the world wants seal products--not the United States, the EU, Canadians OR China. Stop whining about the anti-seal campaigns and start looking for a job that doesn't involve killing a defenseless baby seal for fur ear muffs. Face the facts--the sealing industry is dead in the water. Better to acknowledge this and get on with your lives. Honestly, I've never seen such a group of whining babies who get millions of dollars from tax payers to subsidize an industry that NO ONE wants. Seal pepperoni?! Great investment ACOA! Stop crying and blaming everyone else. And stop wasting our tax dollars! I'm sure there are better economic opportunities to invest in during this day and age. Cripes, seal watching is likely to generate more money than whatever a seal pelt gets now a days. We don't kill whales anymore now do we? Evolve and get over it.

  • Heather
    November 22, 2011 - 15:15

    Ford elms...I agree with your next to last sentence. To the last sentence, the problem is your so called "livelihoods" are born on the backs of innocent animals who did nothing to you. You do seem to have the hate mentality it takes to be an "animal killer," but I for one think it is "barbaric" to kill any animal and wtch it die. And I believe those who happily do, are some of our society's most dangerous and sadistic parts. They should be scrutinized and restricted of gun and weapon rights if necessary. It is the "gun totin" nutjobs that are the real threat to the world's security!

  • David
    November 22, 2011 - 13:56

    ACOA.....the most expensive partner-in-failure ever devised, the cheapest vote-buying scheme ever designed, the best way to steal public money legally.

  • Fogarty
    November 22, 2011 - 09:44

    So millions of Canadian tax dollars have all ready been poured into this failed industry and we're expecting millions more to be poured in?! The sealing industry is not entitled to this money. Maybe just maybe the money would be better invested in new industries and products that the world actually wants and in jobs that young people will actually want to do. Stop wasting my tax money on this failed self entitled non-industry.

    • Ford Elms
      November 22, 2011 - 11:12

      If it hadn't been for the lies, misinformation, and hate propaganda of the anti-seal hunt campaigns, there would be a demand for seal products. Yet, since the 1960s, our supposed "fellow Canadians" have supported the dishonest and bigotted attacks on innocent sealers, even to the point of choosing as leader of the Green Party a woman who played a role in Paul Watson's dishonest hate campaign against us. What other modern Western democracy has among its political leaders a person who took an active role in a hate campaign against innocent citizens? And now we're supposed to just lie down and give in? Perhaps if people like you had come to our defence when the animal rights industry was skinning seals alive and falsely accusing us, we might not be in this state. Why is it that, despite nearly half a century's worth of evidence of the lies, misinformation, slander, staged "evidence" of "cruelty", and manifest bigotry of t he animal rights industry, our so called "fellow Canadians" still seem eager to support unjustified and dishonest attacks, which amount to little more than hate speech, against innocent working people? Is it not time, after long last, for the truth to have at least some kind of a hearing over the lies of the animal rights industry? Is half a century not long enough for Canadians to learn that the likes of Brian Davies, Payul Watson, Elizabetrh May, and the rest of these modern day robber barons have been lying to them? Is it not time, after long last, for C anadians to come to the defence of their innocent "fellow Canadians", instead of disseminating the kind of lies and hate speech that constitute the anti seal hunt compaigns? Or is it just that people need some reason to look down their nose at the, what is it you animal rights people call us??? Oh, right, "savage, brutal, barbaric, knuckle dragging, alcoholic, subhuman murderers"? Why should lies, misinformation, hate speech, and hypocrisy be allowed to destroy the livelihoods of innocent people?

    • Credence
      November 22, 2011 - 11:18

      Plenty of people wanted seal products until a small lobby group convinced some politicians to take away the public's right to choose.

    • Rock
      November 22, 2011 - 19:37

      Plenty of people wanted seal products and just a small lobby group took away my right to choose? Interesting take. PLENTY of people don't want the 'hunt' to continue, you only need to look at the number of signatures petitions on the subject garner. I don't think a European ban on seal products would have been affected by small lobby groups; I believe that require majority action.