Seals are a valuable natural resource, and the seal harvest is an economic mainstay for rural communities in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and the North.
The seal harvest is managed through an Integrated Fisheries Management Plan. The plan identifies the main objectives and requirements for the harvest and provides for more informed stakeholder input into management decisions while promoting a common understanding of the basic “rules” for the sustainable management of the resource.
Important management aspects include:
Ensuring the Sustainability of the Seal Harvest
The annual Total Allowable Catch (TAC) sets the upper limit of what can be harvested commercially in any given year. TAC decisions are based on long-term conservation and sustainability principles and take into consideration the department’s Management Plan, scientific advice, as well as consultation with industry.
The commercial seal harvest, like other fisheries managed by DFO, incorporates the precautionary approach to management with the objective that the seal population remains at a healthy level.
Population estimates are revised annually through a scientific peer-review process that includes departmental scientists as well as experts from academia, non-government organizations and, in certain cases, the industry. These estimates rely on information from various sources, including regular overflights of whelping and breeding areas, sample collection and analysis (e.g. reproductive rates), and comprehensive surveys conducted every three or four years.
Participation in the Harvest
Harvesters require either a commercial or personal use licence to harvest seals. A freeze on new commercial seal licences is in effect for all areas of Atlantic Canada and Quebec (with the exception of Aboriginal sealers, and the harvest for grey seals).
Since 1995, residents adjacent to sealing areas throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec have been allowed to harvest up to six seals for their own use under personal use licences. Aboriginal peoples and non-Aboriginal coastal residents who reside north of 53°N latitude can continue to harvest seals for subsistence purposes without a licence.
Seasons and areas for the seal harvest are set by the Marine Mammal Regulations (MMR). The season for the commercial harvest of harp and hooded seals is established in consultation with sealing fleets taking into account environmental and biological conditions. The exact dates for the annual harvest can be adjusted by Variation Orders to accommodate changing circumstances.
The majority of harp sealing occurs between late March and mid-May, beginning around the third week in March in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, and about the second week in April off Newfoundland and Labrador (the Front). The timing of harvest activities in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence depends largely on the movement of ice floes on which seals are located. The peak commercial harvest in this area is generally in early April.
The grey seal harvest generally begins in mid-February on coastal islands off Nova Scotia and the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The Atlantic Seal Advisory Committee is the primary consultative body between the Department and sealing stakeholders.
The committee meets annually to develop advice for the Minister on management issues, and provide information and updates on a variety of related activities such as market access and international trade issues.
Regional consultation meetings also occur prior to the Atlantic Seal Advisory Committee meeting to report on issues of interest to local seal harvesters and to determine prirotity items to be discussed at the Atlantic-wide meeting.