Food In Canada

Seal meat: A quest for culinary resurgence

By Jack Kazmierski   

Food Trends Meat &Poultry Newfoundland and Labrador Quebec Seal meat

Seal meat producers navigate the challenges and celebrate the benefits of a wild game meat

Photo © Dominique Lebel

Seal meat is as Canadian as beavers, moose, and maple syrup. Long consumed by some Indigenous populations, all seal products (including meat) fell out of fashion in the 1970s and 1980s when images of the annual seal hunt started popping up on television screens and in newspapers. By 1987, the harvesting of harp seal pups and hooded seal pups became illegal in Canada.

Today, many organizations are trying to change the way Canadians think of seal meat. For one, Canadian Seal Products (vendors of seal oil, meat, and fur), is promoting the industry with the help of a digital and social media campaign entitled, “Good for you. Good for the environment,” that encourages Canadians to consider the benefits of seal products.

One of the goals of this campaign is to put seal meat back on the menu here in Canada. Currently, seal meat is only available in some parts of the country, and few consumers know how to cook it or turn it into a meal.

In Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, seal meat processing companies are producing seal burger patties, sausages, pepperettes, and smoked flipper. Photo © Carino

“This is a very dark meat,” explains Romy Vaugeois, program manager at Canadian Seal Products. “When people see it for the first time in a grocery store, and they’ve never tried it, it’s hard for them to want to buy it.”


The solution, Vaugeois explains, is to promote seal meat with restaurant owners, because consumers are more likely to want to try something new when dining out. “Seal meat is more readily available in restaurants in Quebec, where it has been served for many years, often as an appetizer, so people can try it,” she adds. “It’s especially popular with restaurants that like to work with local ingredients.”

Seal meat is also available in some fish markets, but only seasonally. “A number of distributors are already established in Quebec,” Vaugeois explains, “so restaurants can call distributors directly to place their orders.”

Seal meat producers have an uphill battle when it comes to creating widespread consumer acceptance for a rare wild game meat. Photo © Benoit Lenglet

Seal meat producers

According to Vaugeois, seal meat is currently being produced by five Canadian companies, all located in Newfoundland or Quebec. These include Ár n-oileán Resources, Boucherie Côte-à-côte (only sell within Quebec), Carino Processing, Mi’kmaq Commercial Fisheries, and Reconseal Inuksiuti (Indigenous owned, they provide seal meat mostly to Inuit communities in Ottawa and Montreal).

Although seal meat is available in a growing number of restaurants and retailers within Quebec, it’s more difficult to find in other provinces. The best way to purchase seal meat as a distributor in regions other than Quebec is to contact one of the manufacturers listed above.

Seal meat is available as either a loin or a flipper. “The loin is much easier to cook,” Vaugeois says. “It’s like wild game meat, and it has a slight iodine taste, so you don’t want to overcook it.” The flipper, on the other hand, is a tough muscle, and Vaugeois recommends using it in stews and soups where it can be cooked for longer periods of time. Seal meat is also available in processed forms, including seal burger patties, sausages, pepperettes, smoked flipper and more.

The loin is offered in two versions, adult and veal. According to Vaugeois, who says she has eaten lots of seal meat, the veal tastes a lot like beef. “You would barely be able to tell the difference, if it’s processed properly,” she says. The adult loin, on the other hand, because it’s a bit older, tends to be more gamey, and Vaugeois compares the taste to moose.

Seal loin meat can be turned into ground meat, added to a traditional spaghetti recipe, or used to make burgers and sausages. Photo © Les Iles en Ville

Preparing seal meat for sale is complex and requires expertise and know-how. “The meat has to be placed in seawater for more than 24 hours for the blood to drain,” she explains. “You also have to remove the fat because it will oxidize and give you a fishy taste.”

Fortunately, seal meat producers are more than happy to process the meat properly and remove all the fat before shipping the various cuts to their customers.

Once delivered, the loin can be prepared the same way one would cook filet mignon, Vaugeois explains. “You can also turn it into ground meat, put it in your traditional spaghetti recipe, or make burgers or sausages,” she adds. “It’s similar to preparing other types of meat.”

Historically, seal meat wasn’t always consumed cooked. “The Inuit eat it raw,” Vaugeois says. “They also put it in soups, and they have their own recipes.”

Photo © Caribou Gourmand

Multimillion dollar market

Prior to the 1987 ban on harvesting seal pups, seal meat was big business. It’s still worth millions of dollars annually today, Vaugeois explains, but mostly because of the value of the fur, and the seal oil, which is a great source of Omega-3 oils.

The actual edible part of the animal (loin and flippers) is only a small fraction of the total weight of each seal. “The meat only represents about five or six per cent of the total weight of the animal,” Vaugeois explains. “Most of the weight is the fat and the fur.”

Retail cost for the loin (veal or adult) is between $70 and $80/kg, and Vaugeois says that it’s very lean meat with very little fat and no bones. The flippers are much more affordable, and retail for about $40/kg.

While organizations like Canadian Seal Products are eager to boost sales of seal products, some communities simply couldn’t live without it. “For many who live in the north,” Vaugeois  explains, “it’s a matter of food security. In Nunavut, Labrador, and other northern countries like Greenland, importing proteins like pork and poultry is much less sustainable, and much more expensive than seal meat.”

In Canada’s north, she adds, where store-bought meat is costly, a single seal can provide the equivalent of $200 worth of meat, or more, to a family, while providing a much higher nutritional value.

A study conducted in 2012 estimates that there were over 40,000 seals harvested per year in Nunavut, and that the replacement food value of seal meat was worth approximately $5 million. At the time, seal skin products were worth an additional $1 million to the arts and crafts sector of the Nunavut economy.

Photo © Chinched Bistro

Benefits of seal meat

Packed with minerals and vitamins, low in fat and high in healthy Omega-3 oils, seal meat is Canada’s superfood, according to Vaugeois. “It’s also the only wild game meat that can be legally sold throughout Canada,” she adds.

When you consider the health benefits of seal meat, as well as the benefits to local economies in northern parts of Canada, it’s clear that this is an important industry and that there’s potential for growth.

Even so, seal meat producers have an uphill battle as they endeavour to change popular opinion. “We are still dealing with pushback,” Vaugeois admits, “but we see great improvement from a decade ago. Due to all the propaganda from animal activists and all the trade restrictions and misinformation arising from this propaganda, it will take us several years to rebuild the seal industry.”

This article was originally published in the February/March 2024 issue of Food in Canada.

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