Newfoundland and Labrador’s Commercial SSeal Hunt will increase in activity until a climax during the beginning of April. This is when the season’s new pups will reach approximately three months of age and shed their first white coat.
The pups will then be left by their mothers and are forced to fend for themselves. Seals of this age are the prime targets of the seal hunter, as younger seal fur is softer and more desired by the garment industry.
The seal hunt has been an integral part of our province’s history for reasons of sustenance and economic prosperity; in the harsh living of pre-industrial Newfoundland, all game was fair game. Seals produce nutritious and flammable oil, mineral rich meat, and fur that is second to none for clothing and shelter. With the exception of increased government oversight and media scrutiny, little has changed about the hunt.
The harvest of 2014 showed 60,000 seals harvested. Due to trade bans and a shrinking domestic demand, much of the seal meat collected cannot find a market for consumption and is sold as animal feed or destroyed.
Canada is now spending in excess of $5 million to help find new markets for seal products. This is risky when considering the last recorded revenue from a commercial seal hunt was $2.2 million dollars. Producers however, are optimistic, with another tannery planned for Fleur de Lys this year.
Seal is processed in one of five plants on the island. The plants produce meat, pelts, and Omega-3 supplements. Nutritional products have had some of the highest growth in recent years and these seal oil capsules hold promise for the industry:
40% of Canadians have Omega fatty acid imbalances! This can impede optimal brain function and increase the risk of heart disease. In places like Newfoundland where fresh produce is locally available only 7-8 months of the year, supplementation is paramount for optimal health.
Seal is not like other red meat. Seal oil is much more like the fat found in ocean fish – that is to say, largely unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are much more volatile and break down into “fishy” smelling fatty acids much more quickly than say, beef or lamb. Meaning seal meat is best if eaten fresh, within 10 hours of bleeding the animal.
This historically presented a challenge, but modern vacuum packing and flash freezing means that seal can be purchased at top quality here on the island.
When cooking seal, remember it’s fragile fat and very high in mineral and vitamin contents. This means the meat will taste quite strong when cooked, and can be compared to organ meats of other animals.
Try to sear the outsides with butter and leave the inside a nice rare, making the most of the smoothness of the meat. For the novice, try picking up a frozen seal flipper. They braise quite well and can be seasoned to make a pulled-pork of sorts. And don’t worry, seal flippers contain no bones or waxy cartilage – it’s quite similar to beef tenderloin.
Seal can be purchased wholesale through the Carino website or it can be purchased in many preparations through Bidgoods chain grocery stores.