Seal Management and Harvesting

Pup Production of Harp Seals, Pagophilus groenlandicus, in the Northwest Atlantic.

Since 1950 research on seal populations and growth rates carried out by government and independent scientists have provided the basis for seal management. In 1984 the government of Canada established a Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing which, after extensive consultations, presented its findings in 1986. The 45 recommendations covered all important aspects of the industry and in 1987 the Department of Fisheries and Oceans introduced a new sealing policy which resulted in key changes to the harvesting of seals. The current policy on the management of harp and hood seal stocks is consistent with international policies on the management of other living marine and land based renewable resources. Laws were first enacted in 1895 in Newfoundland to protect dwindling seal populations. A closing date to protect adult females was first imposed in 1961 and hunting by aircraft was banned in 1970. One of the most significant management measures ever introduced was the use of Total Allowable Catches (TAC) and quotas in 1971.

The Policy of 1987 focused upon the use of large boats, the killing of young seals and the continued improvement of humane killing and other important issues. Specifically, the new policy banned the use of vessels more than 65 feet in length and sealers could not harvest whitecoats (young harp seals) and bluebacks (young hood seals). Since then the Atlantic Canadian seal hunt has been an inshore activity pursued in boats less than 65 feet and harvesting juvenile and older seals. The netting of seals stopped in 1993 except by Innuit in the far north. Sealers in Eastern Canada are licensed by the government of Canada. These professional fishers are licensed to insure compliance with all management measures including the fact that seals, like all other domestic and wild animals used by society, are killed in the most humane and effective manner with the absolute minimum of physical pain or psychological distress. Personal use licences (approximately 2,500) first issued in 1995 to take up to six seals for personal (non-commercial) use, are also subject to the same stringent rules.

Some animal rights and conservation groups did, in the past, make negative comments about the seal hunt. However, it is most encouraging that opposition has decreased and the World Wildlife Fund expressed support in 1995. Greenpeace, which protested vigorously in early years withdrew about 13 years ago. The 1998 management plan has a TAC of 275,000 harp seals. The hood TAC is small, up to 10,000. With an objective of full use of the animal, overall catches are likely to increase as quality products enter the world market.