Seal trade makes a comeback
New joint venture to put seal hunters back to work

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

IQALUIT (Nov 16/98) - When the Newfoundland seal trade was targeted by animal rights activists, it completely devastated the market for seal products and in turn, eliminated a major source of income for Inuit hunters and their families.

Some years later, the Qikiqtaaluk Corporation is on the verge of revitalizing that industry.

"We've already decided that we can expect to be purchasing up to 2,000 ring seals per month from the Nunavut area," Jerry Ell, the president of the corporation, said.

To that end, QC entered into a joint venture with state-owned China Heilongjang International project and technical co-operation group corporation (C.H.P.T.) that gives QC a 60-40 split of the joint venture's shares.

Together the two formed Natsiq Investment Corp., which solely owns the Arctic Ocean Development Corporation, the company that will market the seal products in China.

Ell said the most important aspect of the landmark project was not turning a profit but stimulating the economy for land claim beneficiaries.

"We want to maximize the benefit paid directly to the Inuit. If we break even, we'll be happy with that," Ell said, noting that at approximately $50 per seal, the business deal will put about $1.2 million into the hands of Nunavut seal hunters on an annual basis.

Because the seals will be caught and prepared for the marketplace in the Baffin region, the creation of a processing plant will further maximize the benefits of the joint venture.

At least six full-time workers will be required to staff the plant and render the seal fat into oil, cut and prepare the meat for consumption and grind the bones into powder and there will likely be additional seasonal jobs Ell said.

The hides will, at present time, be tanned down south until a less hazardous and toxic method is developed.

The location of the plant was still being decided Ell said. And, the best way of delivering the seal products to the market is as of yet unknown, but he was confident that last month's visit to Newfoundland and this month's scheduled China trip, would permit the company to do enough research to form and sign the final agreement this January.

QC's tour of seal plants in Newfoundland also gave Ell a better understanding of his start-up costs -- equipment could run as high as $1.5 million -- and he maintained that the plant would open sometime in 1999.

Han Shoude, the president of C.H.P.T., said the market for seal products was strong in China, and Baffin MLAs said they thought the agreement would help their communities.

"When we lost the seal industry, it was really hard for the hunters to support their family," Levi Barnabas, the High Arctic MLA, said.

Iqaluit's Ed Picco agreed with Barnabas and was commended for his role in solidifying the deal.

Ell noted that he also wanted to work with Newfoundland in order to change the Marine Mammal Protection Act and open up the American market for seal products.