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Prices for seal pelts, used to make such products as these sealskin coats, have dropped dramatically in the last two years. ((CBC))

One of the key buyers for seal pelts in Newfoundland and Labrador says sealers should expect to be paid half of what they earned last year.

Seal pelts sold for more than $30 apiece in 2008, which in itself was a far weaker price than preceding seasons. 

Dion Dakins, manager of Nutan Furs, said sealers should make sure they have buyers, even at just $15 a pelt, before going out. That's just a fraction of the $100-per-pelt prices earned only a few short years ago.

The largest phase of the Canadian harp seal hunt opens April 15 at what is called the Front, an area at sea off Newfoundland's northeast coast. The hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, off the west coast of Newfoundland, opens Wednesday.

"We're also very concerned that we could see an oversupply on the shore," said Dakins.

"We don't need a complete landing of the total quota this year, and we're advising fishermen to make sure that they talk with their buyers, their traditional buyers or other buyers, before they leave to go and make sure they have a commitment for product."

Dakins said the global recession and a proposed ban by the European Union are the biggest problems affecting prices.

'I can't see for the life of me how you could break even, let alone make money, this year.' —Sealer Jack Troake

Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea raised the total allowable catch of harp seals this season to 280,000, even though many in the industry expect far fewer animals to be killed.

"It's a ridiculous price," Jack Troake, a veteran sealer based in Twillingate, told CBC News Friday.

"I can't see for the life of me how you could break even, let alone make money, this year. I can't see how you could do that. It's almost impossible."

Springdale fisherman Ray Newman said he cannot imagine how the quota will be met this year.

"It's doubtful," Newman, who does not yet have a buyer, said Friday. "We've killed them for less than that over the years, but things weren't as expensive as [they] are now."

Newman said many fishermen will have trouble hiring crews to assist with the hunt, particularly when prices are low. He said few people will sign on for a crew knowing there is a small chance of splitting a meagre income.