ACOA documents outline initiatives to develop seal products, markets

Steve Bartlett
Published on November 19, 2011
Telegram File Photo

Part 1 in a three-part series


Bud Hulan required 192 laying hens, among other things, for his seal oil research.

The Memorial University biochemistry prof — and a former fisheries minister in the Clyde Wells government — wanted to see if the Omega-3 content of an egg yolk would increase if the hens were fed seal oil.

ACOA, as part of the federal-provincial fisheries diversification program, thought it was worth trying.

It awarded Hulan $25,600.

“Due to positive implications for the sealing industry and possible new markets for seal oil Omega-3 products, full support for this research project is recommended,” a project summary states.

Hulan’s experiment was among many seal-related initiatives to receive ACOA’s rubber stamp between 2001 and March 2010.

The Telegram obtained details on a dozen of them through an access to information request regarding the agency’s funding of seal marketing and production initiatives.

The total spent on the projects is

$1.2 million, but that’s not the focus of this series, which will run today, Monday and Tuesday in The Telegram.

Instead, we will revisit some of the seal-related projects and their outcomes, and explore the kind of future government financial support that might be required by a traditional industry hit hard by modern circumstance, especially global financial turmoil.


The science of seals

Hulan’s research was among the science-based projects.

Another was North Atlantic Biopharma’s effort, in the mid-2000s, to develop a seal oil-based intravenous liquid for traumatic and post-surgery patients.


The company was formed by four MUN researchers and, when the project was announced, it was reported they had already gotten offers, including one as high as $20 million, for their patent.

ACOA said yes to their proposal.

“Given a credible management team, excellent likelihood of patenting and accompanying sustainable competitive advantage, considerable worldwide market potential, solid R&D results to date, it is recommended that a provisionally repayable contribution of $133,650 be approved,” states the project  summary from December 2003.

ACOA awarded North Atlantic Biopharma additional money in April 2006, bringing the agency’s total assistance to $266,350.

But researchers from this province weren’t the only ones getting ACOA money to mix seals and science.

A company called Innovative Fishery Products out of Belliveau Cove, N.S., wanted to develop plant growth stimulators, protein feeds and oils from seals and fish. It suggested its technology would utilize the whole animal, resulting in near zero waste.

ACOA gave the firm $99,000 in fall 2005.


Money for marketing

The agency also backed a number of marketing initiatives from 2000 to 2010.

The company receiving the most marketing money began its work in November 1999 and was expected to complete it in 2001. The game plan for Atlantis Marine Inc. — a combination of 20 Italian investors and some Newfoundland businessmen — was to “produce a premium quality food grade seal oil as a nutritional supplement.”

ACOA shelled out $311,813 in funding.

Its research found the product quality was superior, key expertise was involved in the marketing, it was supported by the federal and provincial fisheries departments, and six jobs would be created.

Canadian Seal Marketing Group Inc. also received marketing funds.

In March 2010, the Catalina-based partnership of three companies got $100,000 to attend trade shows in Russia and China.

The project summary, under the heading “incrementality and need,” states, “Negative and false images presented by the anti-sealing protesters have resulted in member companies struggling to remain profitable. The industry, while contributing to counteract these falsehoods, is not in a position to completely fund the marketing campaign. ... This project would not proceed within the time frame and scope without the agency’s assistance.”


Seal products

Besides propping up seal science and marketing interests, ACOA has also supported seal manufacturing projects since 2000.

In 2000, Carino Company Ltd., received $57,245 to conduct a pilot project on value-added seal skin processing.

In 2004, Indian Bay Processors of Centreville-Wareham got $134,000 towards its effort to set up a facility to can seal and process seal pepperoni/salami, sausage and tenderloin.

The company’s proposal included numerous emails from foreign buyers, and the project summary noted the company’s plan could eventually increase Newfoundland’s export potential by building relationships with Asian markets.

ACOA also funded a group interested in developing a commercial harvest of Nova Scotia’s grey seal herd in 2005.

The Grey Seal Research and Development Society received $132,000.

“This project represents the first step in the development of a potential new market opportunity for the region and is considered to be fully incremental,” the project summary says.

If it sounds like lot of industry-building was underway in the past decade, Frank Pinhorn of the Canadian Sealers Association suggests a lot more took place in the decades before.

He says the industry’s structure changed in the late ’90s and early 2000s because prices were strong.

“The interest in seals as a pelt increased dramatically and the price of pelts (soared)…,” Pinhorn said. “They were all being harvested for their pelts and their fat and it seems like we lost track of the market for the meat and other byproducts.”

Did the experiment involving feeding seal oil to hens work? What about the other projects?

Look for answers in The Telegram on Monday. Twitter:bartlett_steve