Scientist wants 25% reduction in harp seal quota

A Department of Fisheries and Oceans research scientist wants Atlantic Canada's harp seal quota set at about 300,000 for the coming season.
A seal mother and pup on a small ice pan in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. (Mike Hammill/DFO)

A Department of Fisheries and Oceans research scientist has recommended a 25 per cent cut in the harp seal quota in Atlantic Canada for the coming season.

Mike Hammill, who studies seals in the region, said he thinks the quota for hunters in 2012 should be set at about 300,000 — a cut of 100,000 in the total allowable catch from 2011.

Hammill said his recommendation is based on decreased reproduction rates and two years of poor ice conditions, which have led to high mortality rates.

Despite his recommendation, the actual catch has been less than the quota in recent years.

The DFO's website says some seals are moving farther north, where ice conditions are better. However, it says it expects mortality to be higher than normal, but probably not as severe as anticipated as long as conditions remain good.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare says about 40,000 seals, about 10 per cent of the TAC, were hunted last year.

DFO says in 2010, just over 67,000 harp seals were harvested, compared to 74,000 in 2009 and 217,000 in 2008.

The federal Minister of Fisheries, now Keith Ashfield, usually makes the final decision on the harp seal quota in March.

"We'd like to see the commercial seal hunt end, but I'm afraid it's going to end because of climate change and there's not going to be any seals left due to the lack of ice," Sheryl Fink, director of the seal program for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told CBC News.

DFO estimates there are more than nine million Northwest Atlantic harp seals.

Last week, the Newfoundland and Labrador government said there will be huge implications for the province's embattled sealing industry if Russia imposes trade restrictions on importing harp seal pelts.

About 90 per cent of Canadian harp seal pelts — most of which come from Newfoundland and Labrador — were typically shipped to Russia in the past, according to the the federal Fisheries Department.

However, that number shrank in 2009 when the European Union introduced its own trade ban.

The Canadian government announced in January that it had signed a deal with China to open the world's single-largest market to Canadian seal meat, but that deal remains on hold. 

The harp seal hunt in Atlantic Canada takes place in March. 

With files from The Canadian Press