12/20/2011 04:32 EST | Updated 02/19/2012 05:12 EST

Seal Ban: Russia Planning to Ban Seal Pelts, IFAW Says

HALIFAX - The federal government has confirmed Russia is planning to impose restrictions on the importation of harp seal pelts in the next two weeks.

A statement released Tuesday on behalf of Gerald Keddy, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of international trade, said Russia is proposing trade restrictions on raw and tanned harp seal pelts as of Jan. 1.

"We're currently assessing these restrictions and implications for our Canadian industry," said the statement. "Our government remains committed to defending Canada's sealing industry."

The statement did not say whether there will be an outright ban on pelts.

It said Belarus and Kazakhstan are also planning trade restrictions.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare said Monday they had obtained a document from the World Trade Organization showing Russia has banned the importing of all harp seal pelts.

"By shutting the door to 90 per cent of the market for Canada's harp seal exports, the future looks bleak for an already struggling industry," Sheryl Fink, director of IFAW's seal program, said Tuesday in an email.

"The best thing that government can possibly do right now is to accept that the demise of the seal hunt is inevitable, compensate sealers fairly, and be done with this business once and for all."

The federal Fisheries Department says up to 90 per cent of Canada's exports of harp seal pelts have been shipped to Russia in the past, most of which were first exported to Norway. But the industry's global market shrank considerably in 2009 when the 27-member European Union introduced its own trade ban.

The United States banned importing seal products in 1972.