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Sealers are unsure about market conditions as the largest phase of the annual hunt looms. (Mike Hammill)

Apprehension is mounting as the opening looms for the largest part of the Canadian seal hunt, with fishermen saying there are few signs of what processors will be prepared to buy or pay.

"We're pretty much in a state of limbo here now," said Eldred Woodford, president of the Canadian Sealers Association.

The hunt on The Front - the traditional name given to the seal hunt off Newfoundland's northeast coast, and near southern Labrador - is set to start in a few weeks.

However, Woodford said there have been no indications about how many seals buyers will take this year, or how much they're willing to pay.

"Normally, we've got a fairly good idea on the volume the processors are looking for and a price at this time of the year, but there's so many uncertainties in the industry that we're pretty much out in the cold," Woodford told CBC News.

Woodford said sealers are reluctant to buy supplies because they don't know if the hunt will be worth their while.

Like recent years, the hunt this year will be a challenge. Markets in Europe have been devastated by a ban on imports, and some countries that had continued to buy seal products, notably Russia, have joined the ban. 

In January, Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Minister Darin King said government was considering buying pelts for a stockpile that would be sold off if and when markets improve.