ARCHIVED — Regulations Amending the Marine Mammal Regulations

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Vol. 142, No. 52 — December 27, 2008

Statutory authority

Fisheries Act

Sponsoring department

Department of Fisheries and Oceans


(This statement is not part of the Regulations.)

Executive summary

Issue: The method of harvesting seals in the current Regulations are not in line with the recommendations of the International Veterinarians’ Working Group (IVWG) and would fail to meet the derogation criteria presented in the proposed European ban on seal products. As a result, Canada could face a potential ban of its seal products to Europe, which would represent a loss for an export industry worth $13M and a critical element of the livelihood of 6 000 sealers in rural communities across Atlantic Canada, Quebec and the North.

Description: Amendments to the Marine Mammal Regulations (MMR) are proposed to provide for a more acceptable humane method of harvesting seals. The proposal would modify the three-step process (stunning, checking, and bleeding the seals) to prohibit the use of a hakapik or club for seals over one year old, to require sealers to verify death only through palpation of the skull and to require the animal to be bled for one minute prior to skinning.

Cost-benefit statement: Implementing the proposal would help to maintain market access for an industry with a present export value of $13M. The costs of implementation are estimated to be between $1.8M to $3.6M. These costs are associated with increased costs to sealers (fuel, crew wages, vessel maintenance, failure to attain allowable catch, lost opportunity to engage in other fisheries/employment), to fisheries management and enforcement (vessel time, aircraft, observer deployment, dockside monitoring) and to Coast Guard (maintaining dedicated search and rescue capability).

The proposal makes it possible to maintain an important economic activity for the coastal people of Canada. It would also align itself with the latest veterinary advice and recommendations, requests of the European Union (EU), and concerns from animal welfare groups.

Business and consumer impacts: The majority of seal products are placed on the fur market, where they compete against products derived from other fur-bearing mammals, especially mink. Maintaining a market for seal fur is not expected to be opposed by Canadian fur producers as they have been fully engaged in seal marketing, they support the Government’s effort in this regard, and view it as advancing their general interest.

Impacts to consumers of seal products would be positive due to improved product quality and availability in markets that might otherwise be closed. Also, a healthy market would promote product diversification. Finally, consumers demand products that are sourced in a responsible manner, including animal welfare considerations.


The harvesting of seals in Canada is at the center of a domestic and international debate on animal welfare. A number of prominent non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are actively campaigning to end the hunt, and European countries (Belgium and the Netherlands) have recently established national legislation to ban the import of seal products. Similar legislation for a European Union (EU)-wide ban is being reviewed by the European Parliament. On July 23, 2008, the EU tabled its proposal to ban trade on seal products (import, export and transhipment), allowing for a derogation for products from countries with legislative or other requirements (regulations and/or licence conditions) that ensure that seals are killed and skinned without causing undue suffering.

The Marine Mammal Regulations (MMR) establishes the methods and tools that are to be used for the harvest of seals. Fisheries and Oceans Canada sought veterinary advice through the International Veterinarians’ Working Group (IVWG) in order to improve the hunt. These amendments to the MMR aim to implement the IVWG recommendations presented in their 2005 report. They also aim to meet the derogation criteria presented in the proposed European ban on seal products.


These amendments to the MMR aim at implementing the IVWG recommendations presented in their 2005 report. The Government of Canada has made commitments internationally [e.g. to European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in November 2007] and domestically [e.g. Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, NGOs and Canadians] to implement IVWG recommendations. Specific amendments would ensure that the regulatory framework is based on the latest scientific and veterinary advice, particularly the IVWG and the EFSA reports.

Another objective is to maintain Canada’s good standing internationally as a country that respects wildlife within its jurisdiction. A third objective is to support an economic activity and a way of life for thousands of coastal Canadians who depend on the seal hunt for income and food security. Adopting a harvesting process in line with the EU requirements is essential to maintain access to the European market. With respect to the EU, the specific objective of this proposal is to meet or exceed the requirements for derogation/exemption anticipated in the European Parliament’s proposed legislation to ban the import of seal products.


The proposed amendments would improve clarity around the method of harvesting the seals, which consists of a three-step process of stunning, checking and bleeding of the seals. For stunning, the proposal would specify that the hakapik and club would not be allowed as primary striking tools on seals over one year old and it would specify the manner in which the animal must be struck (e.g. when using a hakapik or club, a sealer shall strike the seal on the top of the cranium).

For checking, three changes are proposed. The requirement to check to confirm death would be modified by adding the requirement to confirm irreversible unconsciousness. This new requirement would follow the latest veterinarian advice which indicates that the seal might not be dead after proper stunning. Currently, the sealer is required to verify death by performing either a blinking reflex test (e.g. verifying if the animal eyes react to stimulus) or a palpation of the skull. Since the veterinarians advise that the blinking reflex test is not a reliable one to verify death, the proposal would retain the palpation of the skull as the only test required. The veterinarians have decided that palpation has a better diagnostic value, especially when performed by a non-specialist. The proposed Regulations would define what is meant by the terms “crushed skull,” “palpation,” and “bleeding” to ensure a common understanding of these terms.

For bleeding, a new requirement is proposed in order to specify the technique that is to be used (e.g. severing the two axillary arteries). The proposed amendments would replace the blinking reflex test currently performed prior to skinning by a requirement to bleed the animal for at least one minute thus ensuring that the animal is dead.

Regulatory and non-regulatory options considered

A blend of regulatory and non-regulatory approaches is envisioned to reinforce the humaneness of the hunt (e.g. development of a management plan, training and voluntary compliance).

Government officials work closely with sealers in the development of management plans and associated harvesting plans. Allowable harvests, allocations to fleets or regions and mutually agreed management measures, including humane hunting practices, are agreed upon and documented to ensure the harvest is conducted according to objectives and principles set out in the plan. There are ongoing annual consultation sessions throughout the areas where sealing takes place to ensure participation of sealers in the management of the hunt. This has led to significant education and awareness among sealers regarding the requirements for humane hunting and has better informed government officials about the realities of seal hunting.

Training will be an important component. A two-year apprenticeship is already in place and would remain a key component to the training program. Federal and provincial representatives as well as representatives of training and certification bodies are partnering with sealers, veterinarians and others to develop training standards and a training program for 2009 and beyond.

Voluntary compliance is critical and is intended to complement regulatory enforcement as a means to ensure widespread adherence to the new proposed Regulations. A compliance strategy is being developed with close linkages to the training program. The Department is enhancing its ability to monitor/report on compliance with the harvesting process and is establishing a compliance rate as a baseline. All hunting activities are observed by enforcement officials, contracted observers, veterinarians, or licensed observers and will be documented and publicly reported. Government enforcement resources will be coordinated to support voluntary compliance using new surveillance technologies such as the rental of camera remote surveillance equipment mounted on helicopters. Other options being explored to enhance compliance are an anonymous system for sealers to report offenders, and an industry-led code of conduct or some other means to document and promote best practices.

Benefits and costs

Using Statistics Canada data and a market analysis provided by the Fur Institute of Canada, the annual value of total Canadian seal hunt exports is estimated at $13M. Anecdotal claims state that the value is larger, but these claims could not be independently verified. Regardless, these estimates are not value-added numbers.


The cost to the federal government of the proposed amendments is estimated to range from $1.8M to $3.6M in the first year and from $1.6M to $2M for every subsequent year. Note that due to the lack of available data, assumptions were used to arrive at the estimated cost. The increased governmental costs are due for the most part to enforcement measures, training and communication. Some of the enforcement costs were increased to provide for greater confidence in the estimated cost to take into consideration numerous unknown cost variables.

The cost to sealers would be directly affected by the potential prolonged period over which they would be fishing for seals. In fact, the proposed amendments may require the sealers to go through more steps reducing the speed of the harvest thus extending the time needed to harvest their quota. A longer hunting period translates into increased costs in fuel, crew wages, vessel maintenance and failure to attain allowable catch, and/or lost opportunity to engage in other fisheries/employment.

As a fraction of the 2007 value of seal exports, the estimated costs of the proposed Regulations range from 14% to 27%. The net benefits, however, range from 23% to 36%.

The share of direct exports of seal products from Canada to other countries has been derived from both Statistics Canada data and Eurostats data. The major countries Canada exports to, by percentage value, are Norway (54%), Finland (9%), Greenland (8%), the EU (12%) and China (6%). An EU ban on Canadian seal products imports is likely to affect 100% of the exportation value to Finland, Greenland and the EU. It is also estimated that 25% of the export value to Norway would be negatively affected. No implications for exports to China or other countries are anticipated.

If the seal pelts are not presented at fashion shows in European countries, it can be anticipated that the market for these pelts would be reduced and potential buyers from Russia or China might be willing to pay less for the products. Thus, an EU ban on Canadian seal product imports could cost the seal hunt industry $6.6M annually. The industry’s export value after a ban would be reduced from $13M to approximately $6.4M.


The estimated net benefit to maintain Canadian exports to the EU would range between $3M and $4.7M, which is calculated by subtracting the total cost range of the proposed Regulations from the estimated loss to the seal hunt industry from the potential EU ban.

Sealing can provide as much as 35% of a sealer’s annual income. Remote fishing communities offer few other employment opportunities. Many sealers would be forced to leave their homes if unable to hunt seals.

The implementation of the proposed three-step harvesting process would benefit the general Canadian public since it would help maintain Canada’s international reputation as a country that sustains a “humane hunt.” The proposed amendments would improve the harvesting techniques and make it possible to pursue an important economic activity for coastal people of Canada. They would also be aligned with the latest veterinary advice and recommendations, requests of the EU and concerns from animal welfare groups.

The proposed amendments prescribe a more humane hunting method which would eliminate unnecessary pain and suffering and would provide sealers with a reliable method for checking death.


Consultation on this proposal began in 2007. At that time, the Department informed stakeholders of its intention to implement the recommendation by the IVWG.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) also engaged key stakeholders at two meetings of a panel of expert sealers and Canadian veterinarians (February 22 and May  1 to 2, 2008). Comments received were based on a list of considerations and questions distributed during the months of March and April 2008, to twelve Canadian NGOs, three veterinarians, and two scientists.

Finally, a notice to review the Regulations was posted on the DFO Web site on November 14, 2008 ( People from organizations and from the general public were invited to comment. In order to ensure that major stakeholders noticed this posting, 70 letters were sent to sealers’ associations, the sealing and fishing industry, NGOs and others inviting them to comment on these intentions.

While general opposition to the seal hunt was a frequent theme of the online consultation results, comments directed at the proposed amendments were mostly from concerned stakeholders and revealed a number of issues which generally fall under the following two concerns:

1. Concern that the proposed amendments could jeopardize the safety of sealers.

2. Concern that the proposed amendments would slow down the hunt to the point where it will not be economically viable.

The expert panel discussion supports the regulatory proposal but has concerns related to the implementation details, such as making the timing and sequencing of the harvesting process a condition to the licence.

Implementation and enforcement

Implementation of the proposed Regulations and associated conditions of licence would require very specific practices to be carried out by the sealers. This in turn requires training for thousands of sealers. For 2009, a training program is being implemented beginning with workshops, development of training tools, and the delivery of a series of pilot training sessions.

To enhance enforcement, DFO plans to implement remote camera monitoring of the 2009 seal harvest. The system requires reliable remote stable imaging using a helicopter-mounted camera. The leasing of the equipment and the helicopter, installation, and training is expensive but is expected to result in a highly enhanced capability for remote surveillance. Existing surveillance equipment would also require upgrading. Enforcement would be supported by a dedicated Coast Guard icebreaker presence.


Tom Fowler
Fisheries Resource Management Officer
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
200 Kent Street, 13th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0E6
Telephone: 613-990-0205
Fax: 613-954-1407

Eve Ste-Marie
Regulatory Analyst
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
200 Kent Street, 14th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0E6
Telephone: 613-993-0982
Fax: 613-990-0168


Notice is hereby given that the Governor in Council, pursuant to section 43 (see footnote a) of the Fisheries Act (see footnote b), proposes to make the annexed Regulations Amending the Marine Mammal Regulations.

Interested persons may make representations concerning the proposed Regulations within 30 days after the date of publication of this notice. All such representations must cite the Canada Gazette, Part I, and the date of publication of this notice, and be addressed to Eve Ste-Marie, Policy Analyst, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 200 Kent Street, 14th Floor, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0E6 (tel.: 613-993-0982; fax: 613-990-0168; e-mail:

Ottawa, December 19, 2008

Assistant Clerk of the Privy Council



1. (1) The definition “blinking reflex test” in subsection 2(1) of the Marine Mammal Regulations (see footnote 1) is repealed.

(2) Subsection 2(1) of the Regulations is amended by adding the following in alphabetical order:

“crushed”, with respect to a skull, means that the cranium has been broken so that it does not present a solid structure on either the right or left half when palpated; (écrasé)

“palpate” means to examine the right and left halves of the cranium by pressing it by hand from the top; (palpation)

2. Subsections 28(2) to (4) of the Regulations are replaced by the following:

(1.1) No person shall use a club or hakapik to strike a seal older than one year unless the seal has been shot with a firearm.

(2) Every person who strikes a seal with a club or hakapik shall strike the seal on the top of the skull until it has been crushed and shall immediately palpate the cranium to confirm that the skull has been crushed.

(3) If a firearm is used to fish for a seal, the person who shoots the seal or retrieves it shall palpate the cranium as soon as possible after it is shot to confirm that the skull has been crushed.

(4) Every person who palpates the cranium of a seal and determines that the skull is not crushed shall immediately strike the seal with a club or hakapik on the top of its skull until the skull has been crushed.

3. Section 29 of the Regulations is replaced by the following:

29. No person shall skin a seal until the skull has been crushed and at least one minute has elapsed after the two axillary arteries of the seal located beneath its front flippers have been severed to bleed the seal.

4. The table to paragraph 37(d) of the Regulations is replaced by the following:


North Latitude

West Longitude













5. The portion of item 6 of Schedule V to the French version of the Regulations in column I is replaced by the following:


Colonne I Espèce de phoques


Éléphant de mer


6. These Regulations come into force on the day on which they are registered.


Footnote a
S.C. 1991, c. 1, s. 12

Footnote b
R.S., c. F-14

Footnote 1