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Seal Pelt Market Down


Swilers on the Sidelines. Heavy ice, high fuel costs, low pelt prices keeping some sealers ashore.

Sealer Gets Boat Ready
Robert Legge of Twillingate recently purchased the Placentia Bay Star and was busy Thursday getting it ready for the seal hunt. While Legge will be going, some other sealers are staying home from this year's hunt. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

By Everton McLean
The Telegram
St. John's, Newfoundland
April 11, 2008

Glen Winslow folded his arms and shook his head on a St. John' s wharf Thursday. A light breeze rocked his boat, Roberts Sisters II, and the owner was taking advantage of the warm, sunny day to get it repainted.

Any other year this would be impossible -- the vessel would be 160 kilometres offshore and Winslow would be looking for seals. But this year, the boat's staying tied up for the hunt. The sealing industry just isn't viable anymore. Winslow said. As a result, many hunters are staying ashore this year.

"The situation is such that no one has any heart for it anymore," he said.

Winslow said this will be the first time in five years he's not taking part in the hunt, which starts on the Front, off eastern Newfoundland Saturday.

Fuel costs are too high and pelt prices too low to justify it, he said.

Terrible conditions
"The economic conditions right now are really terrible."

Winslow estimated it would cost him about $9,000 in fuel to motor to the seals, widely reported to be 100 to 200 km off St. John's, plus the cost of bullets, groceries and wages for his crew.

"Three years ago we got $107 (per pelt) and there was no cull on them. Right now, we're taking $31, and that's their No. 1 prime beater. We can't even think about it."

Winslow said he'd need to see prices around $75 a pelt to cover his costs and make some money.

Meanwhile, Mike Symmonds of Conche was home on the northeast portion of the Northern Peninsula, wishing he was hunting seals. The 60-year-old fisherman started hunting the animals when he was 15. He said this is the first year he can recall choosing to stay home.

"It makes you feel terrible when you can't get out there, but there's no point when you can't make the dollar," he said.

Symmonds said he'd think about taking part in the hunt if the seals were close by, but with the concentration of seals two days away and fuel prices so high, he'd not likely make a profit.

"We went out (in the past) when (pelts) were $7, $8, $10. But not with the price of fuel where it's at today. That's the big thing."

Symmonds said most of the boats in that community were also staying put.

Longtime sealer Glen Penney of St. Anthony said he was staying in, too.

"It's an insult for us," he said of the pelt prices. "We were better off years ago, when (pelts) were $5. To travel that distance for a day hunt is not feasible."

But not all hunters have decided to forego the seal harvest. Gus Sacrey of Paquet was already on his boat, the Brittany and Ryan, heading towards the seals. Speaking from his mobile telephone aboard the boat, Sacrey was busy watching the heavy ice and looking forward to seeing seals.

He said he considered the economic pressure before leaving port, but decided to take the gamble.

"Well, we thought about it, but we're always hoping for a better price when we get in," he said.

And with fewer sealers taking part, he's hoping he'll get a greater share of the pelts.

"We might get a few more seals than other years."

For Robert Legge of Twillingate, the decision to take part had little to do with making money. Legge, who makes a living working in Edmonton, bought a small boat to take part in the hunt and for recreation. Readying his vessel at a St. John's dock Thursday, he said he's simply looking forward to enjoying the harvest and, hopefully, breaking even.

"It's a traditional thing for me," he said. "It's nice to make the money, yes, but if you don't and you can come even, well, we'd all like to keep the seal hunt going."

 

 

 

 

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