Fisheries and Aquaculture
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Sealing Industry

History

Sealing has thrived in Newfoundland and Labrador for hundreds of years. For the Dorset people of Labrador, seals meant survival in the most basic sense of the word. Evidence shows early subsistence through the use of the harpoon. Indeed, to the Inuit, seals still provide a significant resource around which they can continue to shape their culture.

For many early residents of this province, the inshore seal fishery generated income that enabled them to feed their families until the summer cod fishery began. In the mid 1700s European demand for seal oil and skins led to the development of a commercial inshore seal harvest which reached its first peak when almost 128,000 seals were landed.

In the late 1700s, the demand for seal products gave birth to an offshore fishery with wooden sailing ships. The industry grew, bringing a great deal of foreign investment and the growth of secondary employment in such trades as shipbuilders, carpentry, and refiners who extracted the oil from seal blubber. The early to mid 1800s saw an increase in vessel size, as well as the number of individuals involved in the fishery which contributed to landings of over 200,000 seals. The annual seal harvest was worth between $1 million and $1.5 million dollars in Newfoundland at that time.

In 1914, Newfoundland and Labrador experienced one of the greatest sealing disasters in history with the death of 78 sealers. Throughout the World Wars there was a large decline in the commercial seal fishery. Many of the vessels which participated in the fishery were brought into service for the defense of the country. In the 1950s, there was a limited harvest with an average of 310,000 seals landed. In 1965, the Government of Canada implemented the first seal protection regulations. These regulations set annual quotas, dates for the harvest, and controls on harvesting.

In 1987, the Canadian Government banned the commercial hunt for whitecoats and bluebacks and in 1992 the Government of Canada introduced the first seal hunt management plan. In 1993, the Marine Mammal regulations were adopted. These regulations focused on furthering the humane practices of the fishery. Regulations were introduced regarding proper gauge ammunitions and more stringent rules regarding the means to quickly render the animal unconscious. In 1996, the market demand for seals increased, the harvest became more significant and higher quotas were established.

Today, as in the past, the seal harvest remains an integral part of the rural economy. The focus remains on a sustainable harvest based on solid science, an industry based on the full utilization of the animal and based on humane harvesting methods with zero tolerance for any inhumane practices.
 

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