Seal pelts sell­ing briskly

In­dus­try has taken a tan­ning, but pro­ces­sor thinks it’s bounc­ing back

The Compass - - ORTHTE - Ed­i­tor’s note: the fol­low­ing ar­ti­cle was first pub­lished in the Sept. 29, 2012 edition of The Tele­gram. BY JAMESMCLEOD TC • ME­DIA

The seal tan­nery is bustling on a sunny Septem­ber morn­ing, as work­ers han­dle large stacks of pelts in var­i­ous stages of pro­cess­ing.

The work here con­tin­ues year-round as work­ers tan and dye the tens of thou­sands of seal skins that were har­vested this spring on the sea ice around New­found­land.

“This is a pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity more like Terra Nova Shoes (in Har­bour Grace) than a fish plant,” Carino Pro­cess­ing Ltd. CEO Dion Dakins says as he takes TC Me­dia on an ex­clu­sive tour of the fa­cil­ity.

It’s steady work, and it em­ploys around 25 peo­ple full-time in the community of Dildo. The peo­ple in the plant are happy for the work and the con­tri­bu­tion to the lo­cal econ­omy.

“Lot of car­ing peo­ple; good out­port peo­ple,” says worker Tony John­son as he walks by.

It’s labour-in­ten­sive too, he says.

Gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance

The pelts get tossed in saw­dust, soaked in brine, treated with tan­ning chem­i­cals, shaved, dried, dyed and then ex­am­ined and graded be­fore they’re ul­ti­mately sold and shipped to mar­ket.

But the whole works of it ex­ists on a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion; Dakins says mat­ter-of-factly that if the com­pany hadn’t re­ceived a loan from the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment this spring, the plant wouldn’t be oper­at­ing this year.

That would likely have been dis­as­ter­ous for the prov­ince’s seal in­dus­try; min­i­mum pro­cess­ing re­quire­ments for­bid the ship­ping out of raw pelts, and the Carino fa­cil­ity is the only tan­nery cur­rently oper­at­ing in the prov­ince.

“In 2006 we had five tan­ner­ies oper­at­ing in New­found­land and Labrador on seal prod­ucts em­ploy­ing the same num­ber of peo­ple in five com­mu­ni­ties around New­found­land and Labrador,” Dakins says. “This in­dus­try will be suc­cess­ful when that many tan­ner­ies or more are oper­at­ing again in New­found­land and Labrador. That will be true suc­cess — tak­ing the avail­able quota based on sound sci­ence.”

Right now, that goal is a long way away. The hunt this year was fairly suc­cess­ful, but har­vesters still only took a frac­tion of the to­tal quota set by DFO.

And while Dakins is at great pains to make it clear that the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment loan was not a sub­sidy — it bears in­ter­est, and the terms of the loan re­quire re­pay­ment — he also wouldn’t be in busi­ness with­out it.

Work­ers are very much aware of the po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion of the seal hunt. They keep track of the Rus­sian seal ban, and on­go­ing is­sues in the Euro­pean Union.

“We hang in here,” says Wayde Ge­orge, who’s been work­ing in the in­dus­try for more than 30 years. “We have ups and downs. ... I just hope it’s go­ing to keep go­ing the same.”

An­i­mal rights groups like the Hu­mane So­ci­ety In­ter­na­tional and the In­ter­na­tional Fund for An­i­mal Wel­fare have painted the gov­ern­ment loan as a sub­sidy to the in­dus­try. Work­ers at the plant are very aware of the loan, and thank­ful for it.

But Dakins says the sub­sidy la­bel has been a ma­jor prob­lem for him in other parts of the world; it makes it more dif­fi­cult to sell the pelts at mar­ket value.

In nearly ev­ery as­pect of the tan­nery, the po­lit­i­cally charged po­si­tion of the seal hunt lurks.

Some of the pelts get dyed a light sil­very “polar” colour, di­lute enough that you can still see the an­i­mal’s spots. That prod­uct is very pop­u­lar with many New­found­lan­ders, who are proud to wear seal prod­ucts.

Com­pa­ra­ble to mink

But many, many more pelts get dyed dark brown or black. Those are more pop­u­lar in­ter­na­tion­ally, and they’re of­ten used for hats and the trim on coats as a cheaper fur that’s com­pa­ra­ble to mink.

When asked where they’re sell­ing the pelts, Dakins flatly re­fuses to say.

“It’s been a stan­dard thing within the in­dus­try, we’re not divulging our mar­kets any­more,” he says. “What we don’t want to do is give an­i­mal rights groups the op­por­tu­nity to find out where our mar­kets are and go in and un­der­mine our mar­ket­ing ini­tia­tives.”

Wher­ever they’re go­ing, busi­ness seems to be good for the mo­ment. When Fish­eries Min­is­ter Darin King an­nounced that the gov­ern­ment would be putting up a loan to Carino in April, Dakins told re­porters the money would be paid back by Christ­mas.

He says they’re still on track for that; they’ve sold their en­tire back­log of the pre­vi­ous year’s pelts, and at the cur­rent pace, they will sell out of this year’s stock by the time the hunt be­gins again next spring.

When asked how he char­ac­ter­izes the cur­rent busi­ness cli­mate around seal prod­ucts, he re­sponds with one word: “op­ti­mism.”

He says he’s talk­ing more and more about the eco­log­i­cal as­pects of the seal hunt, and how it’s a sus­tain­able source of fur, oil and meat.

“The ex­plo­sion of seal pop­u­la­tions glob­ally and the de­creas­ing avail­abil­ity of wild-caught fish­eries. That’s what’s chang­ing. Peo­ple are start­ing to re­al­ize you can’t ig­nore one species,” he said. “Peo­ple are start­ing to re­al­ize that man­age­ment has to be con­sid­ered on all lev­els of the ecosys­tem. You can’t man­age one por­tion and ig­nore all the rest.”

Peo­ple are start­ing to re­al­ize that man­age­ment has to be con­sid­ered on all lev­els of the ecosys­tem. You can’t man­age one

por­tion and ig­nore all the rest.

Carino Pro­cess­ing Ltd. CEO

Dion Dakins

jm­cleod@thetele­gram.com

Twit­ter: Tele­gram­James

Photo by Terry Roberts/the Com­pass

This bald ea­gle was putting on quite a show near the Trin­ity Bay community of New Mel­bourne ear­lier this month. This “apex preda­tor” is an ex­pert hunter, and it ap­pears that such a skill can some­times breed a lit­tle van­ity, as this bird proudly posed for pho­to­graphs while perched smartly atop a util­ity pole. The bald ea­gle can weigh up to seven kilo­grams, and is a grace­ful flier with some wing­spans ex­ceed­ing two me­tres. It can fly up to 70 kilo­me­tres per hour and feeds mainly on fish.

Photo by James Mcleod/the Tele­gram

Work­ers peg down pelts as part of the process of dy­ing seal pelts at the tan­nery in Dildo. At one time, there were five tan­ner­ies oper­at­ing around the is­land. To­day, the Dildo fa­cil­ity, owned by Carino, is the only one still oper­at­ing.

Photo by James Mcleod/the Tele­gram

Wil­lis Wil­liams han­dles pelts at the seal tan­nery in Dildo. It’s a labour-in­ten­sive process that takes more than three weeks to fully cure and tan a seal­skin.

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