Monitoring the seal harvest

The seal harvest is tightly regulated, closely monitored and strictly enforced. The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring a safe, well-managed and humane seal harvest in accordance with the rules set out in the Marine Mammal Regulations (MMR) and through conditions of licence.

Who monitors the seal harvest?

A highly mobile enforcement team maintains a presence on the ice floes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week throughout the sealing season.

Fishery officers have the primary responsibility of monitoring sealing activities and ensuring the MMR and licence conditions governing the harvest are followed by all participants. However, other law enforcement agencies, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Quebec provincial police, may also be involved in monitoring the seal harvest. At-Sea Observers may also be randomly deployed to individual sealing vessels.

When required, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) provides ship and helicopter support. The priority of the CCG is the safety of life at sea and when life is at risk in distress situations, it will do everything in its power to save lives. For more information, visit Canadian Coast Guard.

While observers do not have enforcement powers they complement the monitoring done by fishery officers by immediately reporting any irregularities. Individuals who believe they have witnessed an infraction of the MMR should bring any relevant information to the attention of their local Fisheries and Oceans Canada office. Alleged infractions are taken very seriously and investigated by DFO Officers. The consequences of a violation of the MMR can include court-imposed fines, and forfeiting of catches, gear, vessels and licences.

What surveillance tools are used?

A number of tools and surveillance methods are employed for a well-balanced enforcement program including:

  • aerial surveillance (both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters)
  • remote monitoring using a high resolution, helicopter-mounted, gyro stabilized camera system
  • vessel monitoring systems (satellite tracking)
  • random at-sea patrols and inspections
  • dockside and landing site patrols and inspections
  • inspections at buyer and processor facilities
What rules are being enforced?

The seal harvest is governed in accordance with the rules set out in the MMR and through conditions of licence. Fishery officers have the primary responsibility for monitoring sealing activities and enforcement of the commercial seal harvest in Canada. Their main objectives in monitoring the harvest are to enforce:

  • the three-step process and regulated tools for humanely harvesting seals
  • the ban on harvesting whitecoat and blueback seals
  • accurate reporting of landings and quota compliance
  • the licensing requirements for harvesters
  • the required distance to be maintained between observers and sealing activities
What are the consequences of breaking these rules?

The seal harvest is strictly enforced and violations are taken very seriously. Sealers who fail to observe humane harvesting practices, licence conditions, and catch requirements are penalized. The consequences of such illegal actions are decided by the court and could include court-imposed fines, licence prohibitions and the forfeiting of catches, fishing gear, vessels and vehicles. In a 2008 court decision, a sealer was fined $25,000 and was prohibited from participating in the first and most lucrative day of the 2009 harvest.