Putting the boots to seal industry
Carino hopes new venture will boost industry; create jobs
A South Dildo seal processing company hopes the sale of sealskin boots will help expand business and create more jobs in an industry that has been through tough times in recent years.
G.C. Rieber Carino Ltd., one of two seal pelt purchasers in the province, will help sell sealskin boots, made by Norwegian company Topaz Artic Shoes, in Canada this year. The boots, made with pelt purchased from Carino, have never been sold in Canada until now.
“ We did a deal with them, more or less, as a co-operation,” said John Kearley, managing director for G.C. Rieber Carino. “ The more boots they sell, the more seal skins we sell.”
Selling those seal skins is important business for Carino. Because of poor market conditions and pressures placed on the industry by animal rights activists, selling seal products has become a tough battle. This year, Carino did not purchase any seal pelts, instead relying on its inventory.
“ We haven’t decided yet for 2011,” he said, adding market conditions and available inventory will both be determining factors for whether the company can resume purchasing pelts.
Kearley said Topaz’s sales have grown 20-30 per cent in recent years in its European market, with the strongest sales coming in colder, northern climates.
“ They will still continue to buy seal skins, whether or not we become involved, but the Canadian market, especially in northern parts, is relatively cold. The demand for warm boots would be there. Anything we sell in Canada is a plus.”
The Russian market has been negatively impacted by the recession, with purchases dropping dramatically in 2008. Only now have things begun to return to normal, said Kearley.
“ We have about 25 people yearround. If the markets increase, we’ll increase our people. During the buying season in the spring, we usually have 100 people working, and let’s face it, in Trinity Conception, an employer with 25, 30, 40, 50 people is a big employer.”
G.C. Rieber Carino has been in South Dildo since 1957.
The boots are a higher-end product, costing upwards of $500 a pair. Carino has 2,000 pairs to move, and Kearley hopes to sell those within the next year. The company is still working on how the product will be distributed, though the focus will be on areas like northern Ontario and Alberta.
“ You go to northern Alberta and Fort McMurray, where you have so many Newfoundlanders living and working in that area. That’s an untapped area,” Kearley said.
The seal population in Newfoundland and Labrador has grown dramatically over the last few decades. When Kearley first became involved with Carino in 1980, there were 2.2 million seals in the ocean. Today, the estimated seal population off the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador is 6.9 million.
The harp seal quota for last year was raised by 50,000 to 388,200. Just over 67,000 pelts were harvested this year, in large part due to a poor market price for pelts, which has fluctuated between $15
“...you don’t like to see a market close, because I guess you can
get a domino effect.”
– John Kearley and $25 per pelt in the last two years.
Previously, a pelt would have sold for as much as $100. The drop in price, combined with the high cost of fuel, makes sealing less viable for those who would traditionally participate in the hunt.
With low catches this year and last, Kearley said in five years the 1.2 million seals born each year will likely increase substantially, with starvation issues a future concern as seals deplete their food resources in the sea.
“ Seals will have to be culled,” he said. “ Whether we take them commercially and make something from them, or we let them grow and Canada and other countries will have to go out there to cull the population and get it under control.”
The European Union has banned the import of seal products, excluding those harvested as part of a traditional aboriginal hunt. Norway is not a EU member, leaving Carino’s relationship with Topaz largely unaffected by the ban.
“In years gone by, Europe was always a big marketplace,” said Kearley. “ But Europe has not been a big market for us for a number of years now. But you don’t like to see a market close, because I guess you can get a domino effect.”
The Chinese and Russian markets have been key ones, with 85 per cent of all seal skins made into hats, many of which are eventually sold in Russia.
John Kearley, managing director of G.C. Rieber Carino Ltd. in South Dildo, said the introduction of Norwegian seal boots, made with pelts purchased by the Newfoundland company, into the Canadian market will hopefully lead to the creation of more jobs in Trinity South.