Principal Buyer of Canadian Seal Skins Subsidized by Government To Burn Pelts

June 7, 2006

WASHINGTON – The Humane Society of the United States today reacted to news that a Norwegian company has destroyed 10,000 harp seal skins, commenting that the revelation contradicts claims of strong markets for seal products.

Norwegian media outlets reported last week that the top buyer of Canadian seal pelts, Norwegian based GC Rieber, was paid by the Norwegian government to destroy 10,000 harp seal skins. GC Rieber is considered the economic backbone of the Canadian sealing industry, each year buying 50 to 80 percent of the skins from seals killed during the annual seal hunt in Canada. Slain Canadian seals account for more than 90 percent of Rieber’s seal skin business.

"For years we’ve suspected some form of price rigging through hidden government subsidies – now we have proof," said Rebecca Aldworth, director of Canadian wildlife issues for The Humane Society of the United States. "These revelations demonstrate that the Canadian seal hunt, in addition to being cruel and inhumane, is also economically unjustified."

GC Rieber purchases sealskins through its Newfoundland subsidiary, Carino, and has repeatedly claimed that the demand for seal products is so strong they cannot match supply. However, a recent media report revealed that the Norwegian government has paid Rieber 2 million Norwegian kroner (about $370,000 CAD/ $330,000 USD) to burn 10,000 excess Norwegian harp seal skins.

The Norwegian harp seal skins were obtained from sealers, who had also received major government subsidies (2.5 million Norwegian kroner) to kill the seals. The Norwegian government justified the burning of the skins, indicating it was impossible to find markets for the harp seal pelts.

Animal protection groups and trade specialists have questioned the repeated claims of strong sealskin markets made by Rieber in recent years.

"In 2000, the markets were so weak that Carino stopped buying seal skins halfway through the season, and sealers returning from the hunt dumped their seal skins into the ocean because they were worthless," said Aldworth. "Just a few years later, Carino is claiming their sales are the strongest they’ve ever been – even as major European markets are closing."