Q: Why don’t we eat seal meat? If there are so many that they need to be culled, couldn’t they be a good part of our diet?
Your reasoning makes sense: We have seals, apparently they need to be culled, and we also like snacks… Hey! Let’s use the seals for snacks! And yeah, people have been eating seals in Canada since before Canada was even Canada. It’s an extremely nutritious meat, full of iron, Vitamin A, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, the list goes on. But it turns out there are a lot of reasons that most of us don’t eat seal meat.
First of all, like a Rubick’s Cube, the culling issue is complicated. Yes, earlier this year, to the chagrin of many wildlife groups, the Senate’s fisheries committee approved the culling 70,000 grey seals (that’s a lot of seal jerky!). But just because it was approved doesn’t mean a bunch of people ran out and culled seals. According to Gil Thériault, coordinator of the Seal and Sealing Network, seal hunting isn’t such an easy thing to do. “It’s costly to get there. People are not that interested in going that far to get something that can not be sold for that much money,” she said. “It’s a hard hunt. A lot of people die seal hunting.”
Okay, so seal hunting is no wet picnic, but even if it was, this cull was specific to grey seals. When it comes to eating (or even wearing) seals, grey seals aren’t a hot commodity – not like the harp seal, which is the ‘cute’ seal most of us see on anti-sealing posters.
Shirley Fink, director of the seal program at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, says that even when there has been a market for other seals species products, there has never been a demand for grey seals.
In fact, the general population isn’t even allowed to eat grey seals.
“In my opinion, grey seal is even better than harp seal as far as taste goes,” Thériault said. “But we still need permission to commercialize it for human consumption.”
So maybe we don’t have a bunch of extra seals lying around waiting to be barbequed. And even if we did, it would be a while before we were given the go-ahead to marinate them. But seal meat is still sold, purchased and eaten in certain parts of the country so why aren’t more of us eating at least some of it?
Well, seal meat isn’t something a butcher or a grocery store can just order and sell. According to Sanagan’s Meat Locker butcher Peter Sanagan, meat needs to be kind of bureaucratically kosher and seal isn’t.
“Animals that are sold in stores have to be slaughtered at a federal or provincial regulated slaughterhouse,” he said. “I don’t know anyone that does that for seals.”
Leila Batten, owner of Whitehouse Meats, a butcher in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market, seconds that notion: “We sell musk ox, caribou, camel, kangaroo, wild boar, ostrich and emu.” But no seal. “It has to come from a government inspected cull,” Batten said. “If it’s not that, I can’t sell it.”
Meat lovers can make kangaroo-pouch sandwiches in downtown Toronto, but they can’t get a nice leg of seal. Aside from the fact that seals don’t have legs, Thériault blames the situation on a lack of demand. He urges Canadians who want to try seal meat to ask for it.
Thériault reasons, “If a hundred new stores are saying they really want that product, then hunters are probably going to be more interested to go out and hunt seals.”
Thériault might be right, says Batten. “Honest to God,” she says, “No one’s ever asked me for seal.”