Canada Seal Hunt Quota Set, Despite Disappearing Markets

Canada Seal Hunt

First Posted: 03/20/2012 4:27 pm Updated: 03/21/2012 11:59 am

HALIFAX - Conservation groups say the federal Fisheries Department is acting "recklessly" by setting an annual harp seal quota of 400,000 animals at a time when markets are drying up and the population is suffering.

Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society International said Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield is ignoring scientific advice that the quota should be lowered this year because of poor ice conditions and declining stock.

On Tuesday, the department's website listed this year's annual harp seal total allowable catch at 400,000, which is the same as last year.

"This is a reckless quota," Aldworth said in an interview from Montreal.

"To us, it's clear DFO is not acting according to conservation principles, but rather to promote the political agendas of the politicians involved."

Aldworth said she just returned from monitoring seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where she said there was a high seal mortality due to a lack of sea ice.

A Fisheries scientist recommended late last year that the quota be set at 300,000 because of poor ice conditions and a shortage of pupping grounds.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare also condemned the decision, saying it flies in the face of proper fisheries management.

In a statement, the group said scientists have warned that the harp seal population is declining while the productivity of the species also decreases.

It also said international markets for seal products have dwindled after the European Union and Russia shut the door on them.

The department declined an interview request. Instead, it sent an email saying the quota was based on sound science and took into consideration input from the sealing industry.

"The department does not feel that this decision poses any risk to the health of the Northwest Atlantic harp seal population," Fisheries spokeswoman Melanie Carkner said.

Carkner said the harp seal population is estimated at just under eight million, nearly four times what it was in the 1970s.

The federal government has long argued that the hunt is humane, tightly regulated and economically important to coastal communities — assertions that animal welfare groups strongly contest.

But the centuries-old industry has encountered trouble in recent years.

When the harp seal hunt concluded last year, federal officials said the season was one of the worst on record, with only 38,000 seals killed — less than 10 per cent of the quota.

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  • WARNING

    The following slideshow contains potentially graphic images.

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Seal hunters use a hakapik, a club used for killing seals, to kill a seal near their boat in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence March 31, 2008 near Charlottetown, Canada. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Seal hunters skin harp seals on an ice floe March 30, 2001 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    The bodies of harp seals, roughly twenty days old, lie on an ice floe March 27, 2001 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    The carcass of a harp seal, roughly twenty days old, lies on an ice floe March 30, 2001 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    The carcass of a harp seal, roughly twenty days old, lies on an ice floe March 30, 2001 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    The carcass of a harp seal, roughly twenty days old, lies on an ice floe March 30, 2001 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Seal hunters carry dead seals in their boat in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence March 31, 2008 near Charlottetown, Canada. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    A policeman tries to remove female animal-rights activist Ashley Fruno (R), covered with a body-painting to look like the Canadian flag, during her one-woman anti-sealing protest by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) outside the Canadian embassy in Tokyo on March 24, 2010. (TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Animal rights activists, Sir Paul McCartney(R) and then-wife Heather Mills McCartney get up close to a seal pup during a venture onto the ice floes of the Gulf of St-Lawrence before the start of the 2006 seal hunting season in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. (DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Members of the organization for the defense of animals AnimalNaturalis protest naked and painted as bloody seals to protest the seal hunt in Canada on March 15, 2010. (Getty)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Members of the organization for the defense of animals AnimalNaturalis protest naked and painted as bloody seals to protest against the seal hunt in Canada on March 15, 2010. (Getty)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Inuit hunter Pitseolak Alainga (L) explains how the Inuit traditionally hunt seal to Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty outside the Nunavut Legislature in Iqaluit, Canada, February 6, 2010. (GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    An animal-rights activist holds a baseball bat as he stands next to a person wearing a seal costume during a protest against the killing of seals in Canada on March 29, 2010 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Miguel Villagran/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    An animal-rights activist wears a mask depicting the face of a seal during a protest against the killing of seals in Canada on March 29, 2010 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Miguel Villagran/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    People protest in front of the Canadian Consulates, on March 25, 2009 in Nice, south eastern France, to protest against the seal hunt in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Canada. (VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    Having recently returned from a trip out to the ice floes to collect seal heart valves for scientific research, local butcher and seal hunter, Rejean Vigneau (R) and AN employee (L) prepare seal meat in his meat shop on March 25, 2008 in the Magdalen Islands of Quebec, Canada. (DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Canadian Seal Hunt

    The Grim Reaper clubs a mock seal to death during a protest by the animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animlas) in Hong Kong, 21 April 2006. (MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images)

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