Seals are hunted in various parts of the world for commercial, subsistence and cultural reasons. In general, this does not endanger their populations.
However, EU citizens expressed concerns about animal welfare aspects of seal hunting. At the time, several EU countries were considering, or had already introduced, national laws to ban the import and use of fur skins and other seal products.
The EU seal regime, put in place in 2009 and amended in 2015, introduced a general ban on the placing of seal products on the EU market in response to these concerns.
The Trade in Seal Products Regulation prohibits the placing of seal products on the EU market, with two exceptions.
In 1983, the EU adopted the Seal Pups Directive outlining measures on how EU countries could ensure that skins and derived products from pups of harp seals and hooded seals (blue-backs) would not be commercially imported into their territory. It does not apply to products resulting from traditional hunting by the Inuit people.
Since 2009, the Trade in Seal Products Basic Regulation has prohibited the placing of seal products on the EU market. The Regulation has been amended in 2015 to reflect the outcomes of World Trade Organization rulings in the EC-Seal products case.
The trade ban applies to seal products produced in the EU and to imported seal products, with two exceptions.
The placing on the EU market is allowed for seal products that qualify under the “Inuit and other indigenous communities” exception, provided several conditions are fulfilled and these products are accompanied by an official document attesting their origin. This is because seal hunts traditionally conducted by the Inuit and other indigenous communities contribute to the subsistence of these communities and as such do not raise the same public moral concerns as seal hunts conducted primarily for commercial reasons.
The second exemption allows the import of seal products where it is of an occasional nature and consists exclusively of goods for the personal use of travellers or their families.
An Implementing Regulation provides for the recognition of government bodies mandated to certify compliance with the conditions for benefiting from the "Inuit or other indigenous communities” exception, and to issue the attesting documents that should accompany the seal products.
The following bodies have been recognised so far:
The Implementing Regulation also provides for the EU Member States to designate their competent authorities.
2020 Report on the implementation of the EU Regulation on Trade in Seal Products
On 10 January 2020, the first Commission Report was adopted and is available in all EU languages here. It is based on the national reports submitted to the Commission by the EU Member States and on the reports from the recognised government bodies.
Main law: Trade in Seal Products Basic Regulation
Related law: Seal Pups Directive
Related topics: Nature and biodiversity, Wildlife trade
Related strategies: Biodiversity strategy for 2030
Related Commission priorities: European Green Deal
For questions about EU environmental policy, please contact Europe Direct.