03/21/2012 11:24 EDT | Updated 05/21/2012 05:12 EDT

Quebec fishermen get early start to seal hunt because of poor ice conditions

CAP-AUX-MEULES, Que. - The Fisheries Department is opening the harp seal hunt early for fishermen in Iles-de-la-Madeleine because of worsening ice conditions.

Vincent Malouin (Mall-Weh), area director with Fisheries, says the department received a request from a local sealers' association to open it Thursday, four days before it was originally set to start.

He says officials granted the request because there is so little ice and weather forecasts indicate that winds might push it further out to sea in the coming days.

He says only two to five boats planned on heading out from Iles-de-la-Madeleine, which has a quota of 25,000 animals.

The department has set an annual harp seal quota of 400,000 animals amid criticism the allocation is too high since markets have dried up and the population is suffering because of poor ice.

Malouin says sealers in the region were allowed to go out a few days early last year because of bad ice conditions, adding that other regions hadn't announced their start dates.