Putting the boots to seal in­dus­try

Carino hopes new ven­ture will boost in­dus­try; cre­ate jobs

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON

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.

Pop­u­la­tion ris­ing

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.

arobin­son@cb­n­com­pass.ca

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.

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