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Seal pelt sales slowly improving

Andrew Livingstone
Northern News Services
Published Monday, November 23, 2009

NUNAVUT - The European Union ban on seal products has Nunavut pelt sales at a low point compared to three years ago, but according to a Nunavut official there is light at the end of the tunnel.

NNSL photo/graphic

Fur sales have been low over the past year and a half, but the Nunavut government is seeing a slow rise in sales. The Nunavut government is hoping to promote sale in Chinese and Russian markets. - NNSL file photo

"Yes the economy and the other markets are slow and (we) find (ourselves in) a pinch but we have some bright sides - we're using more skins in Nunavut," said Wayne Lynch, director of fisheries and sealing with the Nunavut government.

"Demand has slowed down. Last year was really rough and the last six months have improved because we've done a lot of marketing to areas where our products are more welcomed."

A year ago selling seal skins was near impossible, Lynch said. In January 2008, approximately 500 seal skins were sold by Fur Harvesters Auction Inc, located in North Bay Ont., out of about 10,000 they had available.

Three years ago demand for pelts was so high Lynch said they had a difficult time meeting the sales demand.

However, with a recent shift in marketing within the territory and work by the territorial government to build on new partnerships on the international level, things are looking up.

"Nunavut has been its own best customer," Ed Ferguson a fur technician with the auction house, said, adding "the world kind of walked away from us."

With the current global economic recession and the ban in Europe, the international market for seal skins became non-existent. Nunavut is now the biggest purchaser of seal skins from the auction house. Of the some 2,500 pelts sold, most have been purchased by people and businesses in Nunavut. Lynch said marketing has now been focused within the territory to help bring some stability to the volatile market.

Through a purchasing program set up to keep the seal skin industry going during tough times, the Nunavut government purchases from hunters to make sure their livelihood isn't affected. In the past year and a half, Lynch said they've been able to sell about 4,000 skins.

"It's a little better than it was," he said, pointing out the government has a current stockpile of about 8,000 skins.

"Last year it was a nervous time, we had no takers. But things are getting better."

Lynch said while the sales have improved as of late, they could be a lot better and the government is working with the federal government and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to find new international markets to tap into.

"We used to sell a lot to Denmark and Europe, but it's slowed down because of the ban," he said. "People talk about the Pacific rim and Russia who would be more open to a sustainable renewable resource like seal."

Ferguson said the potential to get into the international market rests with two of the largest countries on the planet.

"China. We're always trying with China and with Russia," Ferguson said, adding headway was being made into those markets prior to the economy slowing.

"We do try those two because they're not linked with the EU and they have their own markets and they rely on themselves. If we can get that going again it would be a big break for us. There are possibilities there. It might have to get cheaper so we can start moving the skins and eventually it would start building the price up again," he said.

Lynch said he is working closely with the Nunavut development corporation to look at different lines of seal products, like seal leather, and more development of the dress sealskins.

"Our dress seal skin program with North Bay has been really successful," Lynch said.

Using lesser quality seal skins, which according to Ferguson are harder to move, to make leather products is being considered.

The seal skin market will eventually recover and Lynch isn't shying away from the work required for its recovery.

"There are lights at the end of the tunnel," Lynch said. "There are a lot of people who believe in our products and what we're doing here. It's a culture and a way of life. The seal itself provides nutrition to communities.

"It's more than just the dollar value of the skins."