The Atlantic Seal Harvest
Seal meat is a highly controversial food source, their pelts an equally controversial fabric. Public perspectives on the annual commercial harvest in Atlantic Canada prompt large-scale abolition campaigns and high levels of government regulation. While seal meat is available for consumption at some boutique restaurants in St. John's, Newfoundland, it is not considered a dietary staple. Furs however are more accessible to the general population and can take the form of small, inexpensive keychains or hat toppers.
For this reason, few who reside in St. John's, Newfoundland regularly consume seal meat, let alone personally participate in the 'harvest', yet there is a strong cultural adherence by the urban population to the belief that the annual seal hunt is a Newfoundlander's right. This passion is in part a response to historical and ongoing neocolonial violence perpetuated through major events that represent collective trauma.
Examples include the forced resettlement of smaller communities into larger towns, the cultural migration that Newfoundlanders experienced at the time of Confederation with Canada, the economic effects of restrictions on pelt sales by many trade partners, and the activism of large 'Western' bodies such as Greenpeace, The Humane Society, and PETA.
This experience of oppression, I believe, is shared by the human and non-human animals both native to the land and among the settlers that identify as Newfoundlanders (born pre-1949), rather than Canadians, and their descendants. Similar negative cultural and economic effects have occurred as a result of various resource management and hunting and fishing regulation, though perhaps none as emotive and photogenic as the seal hunt.
My research explores these stories of shared oppression to review how this experience of colonial pressure results in the maintenance of seal hunting as a part of the Newfoundland identity despite the reduced urban reliance on the industry.
Image courtesy of Fisheries and Oceans Canada 2019-08-13