On March 15, 2006, Minister Hearn announced a new multi-year Atlantic Seal Hunt Management Plan (2006-2010).
Seal management is founded on sound conservation principles to ensure hunt opportunities at the present time and in the future. For the duration of this plan, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) will continue to use an Objective-Based Fisheries Management (OBFM) approach, as was adopted in the 2003-2005 Atlantic Seal Hunt Management Plan. See Section 1.2 for a full description of OBFM.
Consultations with more than 100 stakeholders at the 2005 Seal Forum in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) greatly assisted in the development of this plan.
Total Allowable Catch (TAC) adjustments made between 2007 and 2010, inclusive, are to be included as appendices to this plan.
Harp Seals - The TAC will be set annually to account for new information on the status of the population, changing environmental conditions, and changes in hunt levels in Arctic Canada and Greenland. The TAC for 2006 is 325,000 seals.
Hooded Seals - The TAC is adjusted to account for new information on the status of the population, changing environmental conditions, and changes in hunt levels in Arctic Canada and Greenland. The initial 2006 TAC of 10,000 seals was reduced to 8,200 seals per year following a 2006 review of the status of the population.
Grey Seals - The 2005-2006 TAC is set at 2,100 seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and 10,000 to be taken over two years (2006-2007) on the Scotian Shelf. Hunting remains prohibited on Sable Island and other protected areas.
Ringed, Harbour and Bearded Seals - There are no TACs or allocations set for these species. Licences and permits are used to control any commercial hunt of these seals.
During the course of this plan, the Department will work towards amending the Marine Mammal Regulations (MMR) with respect to licence class, humane hunting methods, and amendments which will help to ensure the orderly management and conduct of the hunt.
The commercial hunt of harp seals at the whitecoat stage and hooded seals
at the blueback stage is prohibited by regulation.
Persons may not hunt adult seals in breeding or whelping patches.
Land-based sealers and sealers using vessels less than 65' in length will do the hunting, although vessels beyond that length may be considered under certain conditions to collect and transport seals.
DFO enforces licence conditions and regulatory requirements for firearms, ammunition, clubs, and hakapiks used in sealing to ensure the right tools are used properly for the efficient and humane dispatch of animals.
DFO ill apply an OBFM approach for harp seals, which was first introduced in the previous plan. This management model uses control rules and reference points to establish management measures for a fishery.
Where there is an abundant resource, OBFM will facilitate a market-driven hunt that will enable sealers to maximize their benefits without compromising conservation.
Reference points are pre-established population levels that trigger specific management actions if they are reached. Control rules are specific, pre-established actions that are triggered at certain reference points. Control rules include measures such as a lower TAC, changes to season length, and area closures.
Reference points have been set at 70%, 50%, and 30% of 5.82 million, the maximum size of the harp seal herd estimated in 2005.
DFO is committed to maintaining a high likelihood that the population remains above the 70% reference point.
The harp seal population has nearly tripled in size - less than two million in the 1970s to more than five million today. DFO believes some reduction in the population is possible at this time, as long as the population remains healthy (i.e., above the precautionary reference level of N70), maintaining the principle of sustainable use of this natural resource.
The OBFM approach was explained and generally accepted at the 2002 Seal Forum, and was endorsed once again at the 2005 Seal Forum. The adoption of the OBFM framework for harp seals features:
DFO intends to continue to use the OBFM model for Atlantic seals. Currently, hooded and grey seals are considered 'Data Poor' under OBFM and, therefore, follow a more risk-averse approach than the 'Data Rich' framework used for harp seals above. Hooded seals will likely remain 'Data Poor' because of uncertainty in stock structure and abundance. There are three herds in the northwest Atlantic (Davis Strait, Front, and Gulf) and not all herds have been adequately surveyed. Grey seals were surveyed in 2004 and 2006. After the review of the population in the fall of 2007, it is expected that grey seals will be moved from the 'Data Poor' to the 'Data Rich' category and could be managed under the same framework as harp seals.
The northwest Atlantic harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus) is the most abundant of all seal species in Atlantic Canada and accounts for most of the hunt.
Although harp seals have been hunted commercially since the 16th Century, the present day Atlantic coast commercial seal hunt took shape in the late 1980s after the collapse of the large vessel hunt for whitecoat harp seals.
In 1987, following the report of the Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing in Canada (the Malouf report), the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced prohibitions on:
In February 1993, the MMR were established to replace several sets of regulations. These regulations included the current prohibition on the sale, trade, or barter of whitecoats and bluebacks.
The commercial hunt is now carried out using longliners (vessels 35'-65' in length) or small boats (vessels under 35' in length). Where there is solid ice and seals are close to shore, sealers may hunt on foot or using snowmobiles. The hunt provides important seasonal income and food to residents of small coastal communities where there have been fishery closures and employment opportunities are limited.
Since 1995, a policy change allows residents adjacent to sealing areas throughout Newfoundland and Quebec to obtain a licence allowing the licence holder to hunt up to six seals annually for their own use.
Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal coastal residents who reside north of 53°N latitude can continue to hunt seals for subsistence purposes or as determined by specific treaty rights. To facilitate access to the commercial fishery, as an interim measure, a one-year harp seal allocation of 6,000 seals is identified for new Aboriginal initiatives. Interested groups are required to submit a Conservation Harvesting Plan (CHP) to DFO for approval prior to any hunting activity. The seals will be allocated among groups with approved CHPs.
Six species of seals - harp, hooded, grey, ringed, bearded, and harbour - are found off the Atlantic coast of Canada, although ringed and bearded seals are more typically found in the Arctic and are taken primarily for subsistence purposes. Of the six species, harp seals account for almost all the seals hunted commercially.
There are three populations of this abundant species, of which the northwest Atlantic stock off Canada is the largest. The others are the White Sea / Barents Sea population and the Greenland Sea population. The northwest Atlantic harp seal population was estimated to number 5.82 million animals in 2005.
In addition to subsistence hunts in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, harp seals are hunted commercially in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the coast of northeast NL. Harp seals are also known to be taken as incidental catch in a number of other fisheries.
The hooded seal consists of two assumed populations in the north Atlantic, with one in the Greenland Sea and one in the northwest Atlantic, although the exact relationship between these two populations is unclear. In the northwest Atlantic, hooded seals whelp on the pack ice in Davis Strait, off the northeast coast of Newfoundland (Front) and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (Gulf). Hunting has never taken place in Davis Strait, while the Gulf herd is very small and no hunting of this stock has been allowed since the mid-1960s. Since 1999, less than 400 hooded seals have been taken annually at the Front and the Greenland hunt appears to be stable at around 6,400 animals.
The total hooded seal herd in the northwest Atlantic is estimated to have increased from 478,000 (95% C.I. = 400,500 - 564,300) in 1965, to 593,500 (SE=67,200, 95% C.I. = 465,600 - 728,300) by 2005.
Grey seals form a single population in the northwest Atlantic, but for management considerations they are divided into two groups: one that pups on Sable Island, and the other (the non-Sable Island component) that pups on the ice and small islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (Gulf), as well as on coastal islands along eastern Nova Scotia. The total population has increased from less than 30,000 animals in the early 1970s to around 250,000 animals in 2004.
This species is numerous and has a circumpolar distribution with no defined population structure; there are thought to be approximately one million seals in the eastern Arctic. Ringed seals inhabit the coastal waters of Labrador, but are also observed on a regular basis along the northwest and northeast coasts of Newfoundland, with occasional sightings in more southern areas of the Province of NL. Although hunt statistics are known to be incomplete, particularly since 2003, approximately 1,500 ringed seals are thought to be taken annually for subsistence use.
Estimates of population size and stock identity are not known for this species. Bearded seals inhabit the coastal waters of Labrador and are commonly observed in northern Newfoundland. Similar to the situation for ringed seals, hunt statistics for this species are incomplete, but it is thought that 50-200 bearded seals are taken annually for subsistence use.
With improving markets and record high prices paid for seal pelts, in recent years, the number of commercial licences issued to sealers averaged 14,000 per year. In 2005, DFO issued 14,050 commercial sealing licences. Approximately 1,800 vessels participated in seal hunting. In 2005 the number of participants (active licence holders) was 7,000, representing 50% of the commercial sealing licences issued.
At the request of industry, a freeze on the issuance of new commercial sealing licences was implemented in 2004, and has been extended indefinitely to allow industry to pursue professionalization. Temporary sealing licences will be issued to respond to the need for crew. These licence holders may not kill seals.
Table 1 shows a breakdown by licences issued in 2005. Most commercial sealers engage in fishing for other species or have economic ties to the fishing industry. Groundfish fishery closures have increased the relative importance of sealing as a source of livelihood.
|PROVINCE||Professional||Assistant||Personal Use||TOTAL||# of vessels
|Newfoundland and Labrador||8,016||4,082||1,202||13,300||709|
|Prince Edward Island||18||4||N/A||22||0|
As noted above, residents of Labrador north of 53°N latitude do not need a licence to hunt seals for subsistence purposes.
Since 1995, personal use sealing licences have been issued to residents adjacent to sealing areas in NL (south of 53°N latitude), the Quebec North Shore, the Gaspé Peninsula, and the Magdalen Islands. These are areas hard-hit by the groundfish fishery closures. This type of licence allows the holder to take up to six seals for personal consumption.
The northwest Atlantic population of harp seals summers in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. They begin their southward migration in early fall and by late November, reach the southern Labrador coast. From here, about a third of the mature seals enter the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the rest migrate southwards along the east coast of Newfoundland.
Although the movement of ice floes and ice conditions often determines the degree of effort in any given area, approximately 70% of the seal hunt occurs on the Front, an area off the north and east coasts of Newfoundland and off southern Labrador (see Figure 1 for seal migration patterns).
Although variable ice conditions have been observed historically, there has been an increased frequency of poor ice cover in recent years. Poor ice conditions were observed at the Front in 2004 and in the Gulf in 2005. Higher than normal juvenile mortality was likely during those years.
Figure 1 - Harp Seal Migration Pattern
The season for the commercial hunt of harp and hooded seals is established in consultation with sealing fleets and set out in Variation Orders pursuant to the MMR, taking into account environmental and biological conditions. It can be adjusted by Variation Orders to accommodate changing circumstances.
The majority of sealing occurs between late March and the end of April, beginning around the third week in March in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, and about the second week in April off Newfoundland (the Front). The timing of hunt activities in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence depends largely on the movement of ice floes on which seals are located. The peak commercial hunt in this area is in early April.
The season for the subsistence hunt of ringed seals in Labrador is from April 25 to November 30 as established in the MMR.
The grey seal hunt is also set by Variation Order and is based on consultations with participants, taking into account scientific advice.
The nature of the present Atlantic coast commercial hunt for harp seals took shape in the late 1980s after the collapse of the historic European markets for whitecoat and blueback pelts. From 1983 to 1995, the average annual harp seal hunt was 51,000 despite a TAC of 186,000 animals.
As shown in Figure 2, the hunt levels for harp seals were much higher before the market collapsed. High catch levels during the 1950s and 1960s reduced the population to a level of less than two million in the early 1970s. Quotas were first implemented in 1971. Since then the population has increased to around 5.82 million in 2005.
After 1995, the market for sealskins improved and in 1996, based upon new scientific information, the TAC for harp seals was raised to 250,000. The TAC was further increased to 275,000 in 1997, which was within the estimates of replacement yield, which was the management reference point used at the time. Replacement yield is the number of animals that can be taken in a given year without reducing the total population in the next year. However, the replacement yield approach is considered to be a high risk approach to management and following the recommendations from the Report of the Eminent Panel on Seal Management in 2001, a more precautionary OBFM approach was developed, which recognized clear precautionary and reference limit levels for managing the hunt.
The management measures for 2003-2005 allowed for a three-year TAC of 975,000, with an annual TAC of up to 350,000 any one or two of the three years, provided that the combined TAC over three years was met by a reduction in the TAC in the other years. Landings were 289,512 in 2003, 365,971 in 2004, and 329,829 in 2005. The TAC for the three-year period was exceeded by 10,312 animals, or 1%. The Department is working with industry to reduce the competitive nature of the hunt, thus decreasing the chance of overruns.
Harp seal hunt levels are dependent on both markets and climatic conditions. Since 1996, the hunt has varied from a low of approximately 92,000 seals in 2000 to a high of about 366,000 seals in 2004.
Harp and hooded seals from the northwest Atlantic herds are also hunted in Greenland. Greenland has no TACs, and the annual hunt levels are in the order of 70,000 to 100,000 harp seals and approximately 6,400 hooded seals. There is no shared management regime between Canada and Greenland, although Canada does take into consideration Greenland catch levels when setting the TAC. In bilateral discussions, Canada has encouraged Greenland to adopt management measures such as a TAC approach and continues to share information updates on the nature and level of hunting that is taking place in both our countries.
The hooded seal (Cystophora cristata) is the
largest seal (200 kg to 400 kg) found in the north Atlantic. In the
northwest Atlantic, the majority of pups are born at the Front with fewer
numbers born in the Davis Strait and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. However,
little is known about movements among these herds. Surveys conducted in 2005
estimated that 107,000 pups were born in the Front, 6,600 in the Gulf of St.
Lawrence, and 3,300 in the Davis Strait.
Hooded seals can be hunted on the Front, but not in the Gulf of St. Lawrence; no hunting takes place in the Davis Strait. The TAC for hooded seals has remained at 10,000 since 1998. The hunt for these seals is only a minor part of the commercial and personal use hunts. In recent years, few hooded seals have been taken in Canada (Figure 4).
There is no joint management plan between Canada and Greenland. Greenland has hunted approximately 6,400 hooded seals annually over the last several years.
Bluebacks are young hooded seals. Though they are weaned in 4-6 days, they keep their blue fur for more than a year, and are illegal to hunt for commercial purposes during this period. Over the years, sealers have sought to have the hunting ban on bluebacks lifted in order to take weaned blueback seals as their fur can be very valuable. A hooded seal survey was undertaken in 2005 and DFO will examine the possibilities of a blueback hunt following extensive consultations with scientists and the industry.
Figure 4 illustrates landings of hooded seals from 1971 to 2005. The high catch in 1996 reflects events that year, when 22,800 young hooded (blueback) seals were harvested, whereupon DFO laid charges pursuant to s. 27 of the MMR, which prohibits the commercial trade of whitecoats or bluebacks.
Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) are found on the Scotian Shelf and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence year-round. In the summer, they can be found in the St. Lawrence River estuary as far upriver as the Saguenay, and can also be found as far north as Labrador. Grey seals breed on Sable Island, on small islands and on the ice floes in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, coastal Nova Scotia, and in the New England States from early December to early February. After breeding, they inhabit continental shelf waters on Georges Bank, Gulf of Maine, the Scotian Shelf, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and off the southern coast of Newfoundland.
The grey seal population was estimated to be ~250,000 animals in 2004, with the main breeding concentrations being on Sable Island and in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. The 2004 estimate of Sable Island pup production indicates that the population has continued to increase. However, the rate of increase has decreased to about 7.5% in recent years. The trend in pup production in the Gulf has differed from Sable Island, in being lower and more variable.
Only small numbers of grey seals are hunted each year and a TAC has been set at 2,100 in the Gulf and 8,300 on the Scotian Shelf. These figures are in line with the conservative Potential Biological Removal (PBR) figures established for 'Data Poor' species under the OBFM regime. Sealing is limited to a small traditional commercial hunt in an area off the Magdalen Islands and to commercial hunts of small numbers of grey seals in other areas, except Sable Island and other protected areas where no commercial hunting is permitted. From 1998 to 2005, commercial sealers have taken approximately 1,500 grey seals.
Figure 5 illustrates landings of grey seals from 1993 to 2005
There are limited commercial opportunities for ringed seals on the Atlantic coast off Labrador. In recent years, the ringed seal hunt in Labrador has been in the range of less than 2,000 animals per year. This species is primarily hunted throughout the Arctic for subsistence purposes. There are no obvious conservation concerns with the level of hunt, but there are no estimates of population size of ringed seals in Labrador and no active research on abundance. Ringed seals are not dealt with extensively in the Atlantic Seal Hunt Management Plan.
See Section 12 for hunt levels from 1996-2005.
Ringed seals are also taken for subsistence purposes in Arctic Canada and are not covered under this plan.
Small numbers of harbour (Phoca vitulina) and bearded (Erignathus barbatus) seals are taken each year in the subsistence hunt in northern Atlantic areas. Total catches of these species for the period 1996-2005 are set out in Section 12.
Market levels and weather conditions affect the level of each year's hunt (within the allowable quota). In 2005, sealers hunted 329,829 harp seals. There are a small number of commercial seal buyers/processors in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, with the greatest concentration of activity taking place in NL. The processors in NL purchased a total of 289,908 harp seal pelts and 334 other seal pelts for a landed value of $16.3 million in 2005. The remainder of the commercial hunt ($1 million) was landed in Quebec and other Atlantic Provinces. Meat and other products were valued at about $260 thousand.
Canada exports seal products in several forms. Only relatively unrefined products can be identified in Canada's export statistics (e.g. raw sealskins, seal oil and seal meat), while more highly processed derivatives are not identified as originating from seals. Nutraceuticals provide a good example. The market for nutritional supplements containing oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids has been expanding in recent years, but the contribution of seal oil to this market cannot be tracked using current export codes. Similarly, finished seal skins are aggregated with other furs in our current export statistics. Exports of identifiable seal products were $15.43 million in 2005, but the actual total export value is certainly much higher.
DFO is no longer involved in product support or promotional activities.
The seal hunt in Atlantic Canada is mainly directed at beater seals (independent harp seals between 25 days and 13 months of age). Beater seals provide the most valuable pelts and market conditions are stronger for this type of pelt. The average value of a beater pelt in 2005 was $60 in Newfoundland and Labrador, while the pelts of older seals were valued at less than one-quarter as much.
Finding a market for seal meat outside of Newfoundland continues to present a major challenge for the sealing industry. The amount of seal meat landed in 2005 was extremely low, in part because the hunt was mainly directed at younger animals (beaters), which have very little recoverable meat.
The market for seal oil continues to grow and remains positive. As mentioned previously, a good percentage of seal oil is finding its way into areas other than the traditional marine and industrial oils. As the importance of omega-3 nutritional supplements becomes more widely accepted, the range of products derived from seal oil will likely continue to grow.
There has always been a local market for seal flippers in Newfoundland. The commercial market is limited but consistent, and non-commercial personal use may represent the greatest consumption.
The market for seal organs has been extremely low for a number of years, with purchases falling below $6K in 2005.
Market conditions were favourable in 2005, and the total landed value of the harp seal hunt was approximately $17.5 million - about a 7% increase over 2004.
Besides the commercial benefits of the hunt, seals are an important source of nutrition, as well as a focus of social and cultural life for Aboriginal peoples and other residents of Atlantic Canada, Quebec and the Far North.
Each year, it is customary for DFO to hold consultation sessions with seal industry representatives in both NL and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Regional consultations are held in the Maritimes, North Shore Quebec, Magdalen Islands, and NL prior to an Atlantic-wide consultation in January.
In November 2005, DFO held a Seal Forum in St. John's, NL to consult with stakeholders and interest groups on the development of a new Multi-Year Seal Management Plan. Nearly 200 Canadian organizations were invited to attend the forum and/or to make written submissions related to the multi-year plan.
The consultations focused mainly on the management strategies for harp, hooded, and grey seals. The Forum proceedings.
The Precautionary Approach is a conservation-oriented decision framework, to be applied when there
The harp seal is the most abundant pinniped in the northwest Atlantic. Total population size is estimated using a population model that incorporates information on pup production from aerial surveys, information on reproduction rates, and known mortalities (including reported hunts in Canada and Greenland, estimates of the number of seals killed, but not landed, and the number of seals caught as by-catch in fishing gear). The most recent aerial survey, conducted in 2004, resulted in an estimated population of 5.82 million seals. Modeling carried out in early 2005 estimated that the current population size has changed little since 1996 and established the 2005 population at around 5.82 million. This estimate considers the most recent information on pup mortality and hunt.
The population has recovered in the past from an estimated low of around 1.8 million in the early 1970s to more than 5 million today.
Like harp seals, abundance of hooded seals is estimated from a population model that incorporates information on the number of pups born, reproductive rates, and catches. There are four estimates of pup production of hooded seals, of which only one (2005) includes estimates of all three whelping areas. This makes it difficult to compare estimated abundance to prior assessments and to determine the state of the population.
The first survey was carried out in 1984 when pup production in the Davis Strait and at the Front was estimated to be ~19,000 and ~62,000 respectively. The second survey of hooded seals was carried out in 1990-1991. Pup production at the Front was estimated to be ~83,000, and ~2,000 pups were born in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Based on these surveys, total abundance of hooded seals was estimated to be 450,000 to 475,000 animals. Only the 2005 survey includes pup production estimates from each of the three whelping areas: Front (107,000), Gulf (7,000), and Davis Strait (3,000). For hooded seals to be considered 'Data Rich' under OBFM, two more surveys of all three whelping areas will be needed along with recent information on reproductive rates.
The grey seal population was estimated to be 250,000 animals in 2004, with the main breeding concentrations being in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and on Sable Island. Using changes in pup production estimates as an index of population growth, pup production on Sable Island had been increasing at an annual rate of 12.8% per year from the 1960s through to 1997. Although continuing to increase, the 2004 survey indicated that the rate of increase has declined. Changes in the age of first birth suggest that density-dependent factors are affecting the dynamics of this population. Pup production in the Gulf herd has increased to around 16,000 animals in 2004. Gulf pup production is much more variable than observed at Sable Island and may be linked to variable ice conditions observed in recent years. A survey is planned for the winter of 2006-07.
A study of Arctic ringed seals has confirmed the existence of several distinct groups of ringed seals. Based on growth data, along with the existence of geographic barriers, distinct population boundaries can be defined (e.g., Hudson Bay, Baffin Island/Davis Strait, Arctic Archipelago and Beaufort Sea). The structure of the ringed seal population in Labrador is less well known.
Research continues to examine the effects of climate change on this species, particularly in the Hudson Bay region, where fluctuations in reproductive rates have been observed. Ringed seals are a critical prey item for polar bears in the North. Consequently, any proposal for a commercial hunt of this species would have to take into account the potential impact on polar bears. There are few detailed estimates of ringed seal abundance for Canadian populations. Hunting of ringed seals is currently done for subsistence only.
There are no reliable population estimates for harbour and bearded seals.
DFO is responsible for managing the sustainable use of fisheries resources with conservation as the paramount consideration. The scope and nature of environmental effects are considered when developing management plans. Various management options are weighed against one another based on careful consideration of all information, including traditional knowledge, local knowledge and industry experience, along with the best scientific information available from both DFO and external organizations. This management plan was formulated in consideration of any environmental or habitat concerns.
With the advent of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), which received Royal Assent on December 12, 2002, the coming into force of this Act will result in immediate prohibitions against killing, harming, harassing, capturing, taking or possessing any species listed on Schedule 1 of the Act as an extirpated species, an endangered species, or a threatened species, and against damaging or destroying the residence of individuals of a species listed as endangered or threatened. These prohibitions will apply unless a person is authorized by a permit, licence or other similar document issued in accordance with this Act, to engage in an activity affecting the listed species or the residences of its individuals.
Current management measures in the seal fishery will be examined to determine if a permit, licence or other similar document can be issued, authorizing fishers to engage in the seal fishery while affecting a listed wildlife species or the residences of its individuals on the basis that:
If a permit is issued, the Minister of DFO must include in the public registry, an explanation of why it was issued, taking into account the matters referred to above.
If the species is found in an area in respect of which a wildlife management board is authorized by a land claim agreement to perform functions in respect of wildlife species, the Minister of DFO must consult the wildlife management board before issuing a permit concerning that species in that area.
If the species is found in a reserve or in other lands that are set apart for the use and benefit of a band, the Minister of DFO must consult the band before issuing a permit concerning that species in that reserve or those other lands.
The permit must contain any terms and conditions governing the activity that the Minister of DFO considers necessary for protecting the species, minimizing the impact of the seal hunt on the species or providing for its recovery.
Permits may be issued for a maximum period of three years.
Research in this area is ongoing and management measures may have to be changed based on the conditions noted above.
For more information please see the Environment Canada Web page
Figure 5 - Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) Divisions
|Seals in Atlantic Canada consume a wide variety of fish species including some which are of commercial importance. Seals also consume capelin, herring and sand lance, which are important prey for many commercial fish species. Many believe that the predation and competition by seals are responsible for the absence of recovery in many groundfish stocks, although current evidence for such an effect is inconclusive.|
The Eminent Panel on Seal Management (2001) reviewed the information available on fish consumption by seals. The Panel concluded that understanding the impact of seal predation on fish populations is a difficult problem as it involves understanding complex ecosystem interactions.
The Panel concluded that although seals consume large amounts of fish throughout Atlantic Canada, there was much less evidence that this predation was having a major impact on the recovery of most commercial fish stocks. The Panel noted that many of these stocks would probably take a long time to recover to fully exploitable levels, even if all seal predation is removed.
However, the Panel stated that the estimated consumption of Atlantic cod by seals in Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) Divisions 4RS3Pn and 2J3KL is particularly large and this may be contributing to the apparently high levels of mortality experienced by those stocks. The Panel however pointed out the high level of uncertainties associated with the estimates of seal consumption. The estimated levels of consumption in 2J3KL cannot be reconciled with the current estimates of abundance of fish stocks. Research into this predator prey issue continues as it is an important issue.
The concept of seal exclusion zones (SEZ) (or cod conservation areas) is an area-specific management scenario aimed at protecting small areas where cod spawn or aggregate. The objective would be to reduce predation by eliminating or reducing the number of seals in a defined geographical area.
The feasibility of the establishment of SEZ was examined at a workshop in 2004. The workshop concluded that, while these zones may be effective in very small geographic, well-defined areas such as small rivers or estuaries, the effectiveness would decrease rapidly in more open areas. They were considered to be impractical in open marine systems.
Ecosystem-based Management means taking account of species interactions and the interdependencies between species and their habitats when making resource management decisions.
DFO has maintained an active seal research program for many years. This program is aimed at better understanding fluctuations in seal populations and the factors that influence numbers and vital rates, as well as the role of seals in marine ecosystems.
Recently, most of the research has focussed on the population dynamics and the impact of seals on their prey. Research being carried out includes long-term trends in reproductive performance and survival, foraging ecology (seasonal movements and diving behaviour), and diets of seals. These studies are providing a better understanding of predation on fish and invertebrate stocks by seals and how seals interact with other components of their ecosystem. Other aspects of the seal science program include the monitoring of the health, growth and condition of seals, and determining stock structure, and parasite loads.
DFO research is carried out in collaboration with the Dalhousie University, University of Waterloo, Laval University, Memorial University of Newfoundland, The Sea Mammal Research Unit, St. Andrews University, The Smithsonian Institution, The National Geographic Society, the Norwegian Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, and other national and international institutions.
Based on the current abundance of the harp seal population, the OBFM approach is being used for the management of this species. The two objectives are to:
Hooded and grey seals have been identified as 'Data Poor'. Under this framework, a more conservative risk-averse approach to estimating hunt levels is used.
The 2006-2010 Management Plan provides a management framework to support the long-term, sustainable commercial and subsistence hunt of seals on the Atlantic coast. This hunt provides sealers, Aboriginal and northern residents of Atlantic Canada with an opportunity to use adult and self-reliant juvenile seals to provide economic benefits and food for their families and communities.
Section 8 of the MMR stipulates that persons can only dispatch marine mammals in a manner designed to do so quickly. The MMR also stipulates that seals may be killed only by the use of high powered rifles, shotguns firing slugs, clubs, and hakapiks. Further requirements pertaining to the size, weight, muzzle velocity, and gauge of weapon are specified in subsection 28(1) of the MMR.
Licensing policy, which requires a licensed apprentice sealer to work under a professional sealer for two years to obtain a professional licence, augments the regulatory requirements. Personal use sealers must have a hunter's capability certificate or big game licence and attend mandatory training sessions before a licence can be issued. At the request of industry, a freeze was implemented in 2004 and has been extended indefinitely to all industry to further pursue professionalization.
As a result of recommendations received from the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), a regulatory amendment to improve hunting practices was implemented in 2003. The new regulations include amendments to hunting methods to establish a clearer determination of death before bleeding and skinning as recommended by the CVMA.
In 2005, the Independent Veterinarians' Working Group (IVWG) on the Canadian Seal Hunt examined seal hunting methods and made recommendations to further improve humaneness in the hunt. DFO will continue to consult with veterinary experts and industry stakeholders for the purpose of developing appropriate amendments to the MMR, in order to implement the IVWG's recommendations.
The federal government continues to encourage the fullest possible use of each seal hunted.
Canada and Greenland hunt harp and hooded seals from the same populations. The Canadian and Greenland governments have been exchanging information on their respective hunts and have agreed to continue such exchanges with the intent of verifying hunt activities and strengthening conservation. Greenland catches are taken into consideration when setting Canadian TACs.
Companies continue to pursue marketing opportunities for seal products in Eurasian markets such as Russia, China, and Korea.
Canadian seal products are unable to access the United States market due to the prohibition on the import of seal products under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). This prohibition has been in place since 1972, and the federal government is working in cooperation with provincial governments, Aboriginal representatives, and the sealing industry to affect changes that would lead to the elimination of this trade barrier. The Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade (DFAIT) has the lead on this issue, and is presently developing a plan in an effort to open the U.S. market to Canadian sealing products.
The federal government provides factual information about the hunt rate, the nature of the seal hunt, enforcement, and conservation measures to diplomatic posts and to foreign and domestic media, businesses, government representatives, and citizens. Information is provided in the form of news releases, fact sheets, backgrounders, and through DFO's website.
In 2000, the Department launched a new section on its website specifically dedicated to seals, to ensure that information on the seal hunt is current and easily accessible.
In addition, DFAIT will continue to promote public education on the seal hunt on the international front.
In 2005, DFO undertook a national survey of public attitudes toward the seal hunt. The survey was conducted by the Ipsos-Reid Corporation.
The objective of the survey was to update the Department's understanding of the Canadian public's views on commercial hunting and the current federal seal hunting policy.
Results of the survey indicate that 55% of Canadians agree that hunting animals for commercial purposes is an acceptable practice when it is carried out in a humane manner. In addition, 60% of Canadians support the current federal policy for hunting seals, which states that no nursing seals are hunted, the hunt is done in a humane manner, and quotas are set to ensure that seal populations are sustained.
DFO ensures that all fleets are allocated a share of the TAC of harp seals, based on their traditional reliance on seals and recognizing the importance of this industry to residents of coastal communities adjacent to the major sealing areas.
Discussions are ongoing to find a permanent solution in regards to regional allocations.
The 2003-2005 TAC of 975,000 harp seals was exceeded by 10,000 animals, largely due to the competitive nature of the hunt. To address this situation, the Department met with an industry working group to find a suitable sharing arrangement for all groups involved in the Gulf hunt. For 2006, the Minister sub-divided the Gulf allocation among Gulf fleets with the goal of reducing the competitive nature of the hunt and ensuring the most humane hunt possible. For subsequent years, DFO will further consult with industry to find a long-term solution.
Aboriginal peoples and non-Aboriginal coastal residents who reside north of 53°N latitude can continue to hunt seals for subsistence purposes or, as determined by specific treaty rights, without a licence. To facilitate access to the commercial fishery, as an interim measure, an annual harp seal allocation of 10,000 seals is identified for new Aboriginal initiatives, personal use, and Arctic hunts. Interested groups are required to submit a CHP to DFO for approval prior to any hunting activity. The seals will be allocated among groups with approved CHPs.
To ensure that seals are dispatched quickly and humanely, and handled and processed so as to provide high-quality products, licensing policy requires an apprenticeship before a commercial sealer can obtain a professional licence.
Personal use sealing licences will not be issued to any person who did not have a licence, a valid hunter's capability certificate, or big game licence the previous year, and who has not attended a mandatory training session.
DFO works closely with the sealing industry to help develop and provide information sessions on methods of hunting, handling, and processing to ensure high standards for Canadian seal products.
The MMR stipulates that persons can only dispatch seals in a manner designed to do so quickly. The regulatory amendments that came into force in 2003, establish a clearer determination of death before bleeding and skinning.
In 2005, the IVWG on the Canadian Seal Hunt examined seal hunting methods and made recommendations to further improve humaneness in the hunt. DFO will continue to consult with veterinary experts and industry stakeholders for the purpose of developing appropriate amendments to the MMR in order to implement the IVWG's recommendations.
The TAC in the previous management plan (2003-2005) was exceeded, largely due to a competitive race for seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2004 and 2005. To improve management and control of the hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and to increase benefits to sealers, industry and provincial representatives from each of the Atlantic Provinces and Quebec formed a working group to discuss possible options for resource sharing in the Gulf hunt. The working group failed to reach a consensus and requested that a mediation/independent review be established to recommend longer term sharing arrangements. In the meantime, a one-year sharing arrangement has been introduced for the Gulf portion of the quota. Allocations for 2006 are outlined in Section 13.
At industry's request, a one-year licence freeze was implemented in 2004 to
allow industry to gather information on active sealing licences and pursue
professionalization of the seal hunt. The freeze was later extended until
March 31, 2007, and limits access to the seal hunt to those who have been
sealing in the recent past.
DFO will work with industry groups in order to develop criteria to allow new entrants into the hunt and to include strengthened training requirements as part of the criteria for new entrants.
Since 1998, DFO has consulted with over 80 groups on prospective changes to the regulations respecting seals and sealing. The proposed amendments were developed as a result of extensive consultations with Aboriginal groups, the sealing and fishing industry, scientists, academics, veterinarians, provincial/territorial and federal officials, and conservation and animal welfare groups.
These amendments apply only to commercial and non-Aboriginal personal use sealing. The regulations do not apply to Aboriginal sealing for food, social, or ceremonial purposes.
At the 2005 Seal Forum, recommendations were presented by an international group of independent veterinarians for improving the management of the seal harvest. The main proposals pertained to adopting a three-step process of proper stunning, checking by palpation of the skull, which would replace the current requirement for a corneal reflex test, and bleeding. DFO will continue to consult with stakeholders on appropriate amendments to the MMR, in order to implement recommendations related to this three-step process.
Other regulatory change will be pursued with industry stakeholders, for example changes to facilitate better management of the hunt by closing or opening specific areas to specific licence holders for specific species.
TACs are established on an annual basis. See Table 1 in Section 13.
The overall TAC of harp seals is subdivided into commercial sealing allocations applicable to different areas and fleet sectors, a personal use allocation for all areas, and a subsistence allocation for northern communities.
Seals hunted by sealers licensed in an area or sub-area are counted against the allocation for that area or sub-area, regardless of the area in which they are taken.
Local Advisory Stakeholder Groups are consulted on any in-season
reallocations or sub-allocations among sectors or areas.
The TACs are revised and will be established and announced on an annual basis. A one-year TAC for harp seals (2006) is set at 375,000 animals.
The TAC will remain at 10,000 per year in 2005 and 2006, and will be reviewed for 2007. As in previous years, there will be no hunt for hooded seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The TAC for grey seals will be 2,100 annually in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and up to a maximum of 10,000 seals to be taken over two years on the Scotian Shelf, and will be reviewed as new information becomes available.
There are no TACs or allocations set on these species. Licences and permits will be used to control any commercial hunt for these species.
A subsistence hunt is permitted for a small number of harp, hooded, grey, ringed, bearded, and harbour seals.
Residents of Labrador north of 53°N latitude and the Arctic (Sealing Areas 1 to 4 - see map in Section 15) can hunt seals of any species at any time of the year for subsistence purposes, except as specified for ringed seals below. Aboriginal persons can also hunt seals throughout the year for food, social, and ceremonial purposes and as provided in Land Claim Agreements.
The commercial hunt takes place in traditional sealing areas on the Front (Sealing Areas 5 to 8) and in the Gulf (Sealing Areas 9 to 16, 20, 22, 26, and 27 - see map in Section 15). As per the MMR, the season is from November 15 to May 15. Regional Directors General (RDGs) may alter the seasons (close times) by publicly issuing Variation Orders. The taking of whitecoat seals is prohibited.
The personal use hunt is allowed off NL south of 53°N latitude and off Quebec's North Shore, the Gaspé Peninsula, and the Magdalen Islands. The season is the same as the commercial season and is established by the period of validity on licences. It is illegal for personal use licence holders to take whitecoats.
The commercial season is from November 15 to May 15 in Sealing Areas 4 to 7, and 12. RDGs may alter the seasons (close times) by publicly issuing Variation Orders. Sealing Areas 8 to 11 and 13 to 33 (see map in Section 15) are areas where hooded seals have not been hunted and they remain closed. The taking of young hooded seals (bluebacks) is prohibited.
Personal use licences may allow hooded seals to be taken in areas where the commercial season is open. It is illegal for personal use licence holders to hunt bluebacks.
There are no personal use licences issued to hunt grey seals.
In an effort to encourage the development of a commercial grey seal hunt, based on the establishment of products and markets, a TAC for grey seals will be announced on an annual basis, depending on scientific advice.
Full-time fishers are eligible to be issued a nuisance seal licence for grey seals if it can be satisfactorily shown that their fishing operations are being detrimentally impacted by grey seal predation. The requirements of the MMR, sections 28- 29 inclusive, apply in respect to the hunting of grey seals.
The timing of the grey seal hunt is controlled by condition of licence. The small commercial hunt near the Magdalen Islands may occur in January and February, and other grey seal hunts may be approved on a case-by-case basis. There is no personal use hunt for grey seals. No hunting should occur at breeding colonies during the period when females are nursing.
The season for the subsistence hunt of ringed seals in Labrador is from April 25 to November 30. The taking of bearded and harbour seals taken for subsistence purposes is allowed throughout the year.
Not withstanding the current licence freeze and the issuance of temporary licences, licences are not required by Labrador residents north of 53°N latitude hunting seals in Sealing Areas 1 to 4 for food purposes. They are also not required by Aboriginal people hunting for food, social, or ceremonial purposes and who are not the beneficiaries of a claims agreement.
The Commercial Fisheries Licensing Policy for Eastern Canada (1996), made under authority of the Fisheries Act (FA), governs the issuance of sealing licences.
Under the authority of this policy, professional commercial sealing licences may be issued only to full time or bona fide fishers registered with DFO who:
a) held a professional sealing licence the previous year; or
b) have participated in the seal hunt during the previous two years as the holder of an assistant sealing licence.
Assistant sealing licences may be issued only to persons who are in possession of written confirmation, from a professional sealer, to the effect that the assistant sealer will be hunting seals under the supervision of the professional sealer during the sealing season.
Personal use sealing licences, allowing the hunt of up to six seals a year for personal consumption, may be issued only to residents who:
a) live adjacent to established sealing areas throughout Newfoundland, in Labrador south of 53°N latitude, on Quebec's North Shore, the Gaspé Peninsula, and the Magdalen Islands; and
b) held a personal use sealing licence in the previous year; or
c) hold a valid provincial hunting licence for big game or a hunter's capability certificate to demonstrate their proficiency with firearms* and have attended a mandatory information session on regulations, safety and the proper handling of hunted seals.
* Applicants from the Magdalen Islands need not meet the requirements for firearms proficiency if they are using a club in accordance with the traditional hunting practices in that area.
As well as the TACs, allocations, seasons, and licensing measures noted above, this Management Plan includes additional measures noted below. The MMR and the Seal Licensing Policy for Eastern Canada are used to manage many of these elements.
The major emphasis of DFO's Conservation and Protection (C&P) strategies will be on monitoring catches, ensuring humane hunting practices, and enforcing the prohibition on the hunt of whitecoat and blueback seals.
It is customary for the Department to place independent observers on a number of fishing vessels to monitor activities. This is commonly referred to as “observer coverage". In the conduct of the seal hunt, observer coverage is used to provide unbiased, timely information on catch, seal and vessel concentrations, overall activities in specific hunting areas, and to promote compliance with regulations. The level of observer coverage varies from year to year depending on requirements.
The following table shows the enforcement priorities during the conduct of the annual seal hunt.
|TABLE 2: ENFORCEMENT PRIORITIES|
|Monitor hunt and enforce regulations||Sections 8, 28 and 29 of the MMR||
|Maintain accurate reporting of landings and quota compliance||Section 22 of the Fishery (General) Regulations (FGR)||
|Monitor by-catches of seals||Section 5 of the MMR and Section 33 of the FGR||
|Ensure that no whitecoats or bluebacks are hunted||Licence condition||
DFO will seek the effective application of legislation, policies and directives related to:
Sealers are required to maintain logbooks and/or hail (report orally) seal hunts daily for vessels >35' in overall length. These reports and hunt estimates made by fishery officers are compiled by species, zone, and vessel class, in weekly quota reports. For vessels <35' in overall length and land-based sealers, fishery officers provide hunt estimates based on community reports, plant statistics, weekly reports, and/or checks of landings. In Newfoundland, weekly reports are compiled based on species, area, and vessel class.
The enforcement objectives are to seek overall compliance with regulations and to ensure the maintenance of effective quota monitoring. Priority is given to enforcing regulations pertaining to proper hunting techniques (humane killing), the accurate reporting of landings and quota compliance, monitoring by-catches of seals in other fisheries, and ensuring that whitecoats and bluebacks are not hunted. Priority is to ensure all licence conditions are respected, including observer permits.
The enforcement program is based on the utilization of air/surface platforms, as well as on the deployment of fishery officers and observers.
Commencing in mid-February, fixed-wing aerial patrols are conducted to determine the location of seals and sealing vessels. If necessary, the frequency of patrols is increased during the season. Helicopter patrols are conducted in both the Gulf and Front areas, as required.
During peak hunt activity, patrol vessels with fishery officers conduct at-sea surveillance in the NL Region. Fishery officers conduct at-sea boardings to ensure compliance with the MMR, with particular emphasis on hunting methods. Fishery officers may also be deployed directly on sealing vessels and randomly moved to various vessels throughout the fleet.
In both the NL Region and the Magdalen Islands area, Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) vessels may be called upon for assistance if required to transport fishery officers to the hunt.
Fishery officers conduct coastal patrols, dockside checks, and quota monitoring.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is available upon request should situations arise where assistance is required in both the Front and Gulf areas. As required, DFO participates in joint patrols with the RCMP and the Sûreté du Québec to ensure an orderly hunt.
Regular (weekly or daily) conference calls are conducted to monitor the implementation and effectiveness of the operational plan. If required, in-season adjustments are made to the plan.
|Newfoundland Gulf||Cape Breton, N.S., P.E.I.||Magdalen Islands||Quebec North Shore||Personal Use||Yearly Total|
Distribution of the harp seal TAC between the Front, including Labrador,
and the Gulf of St. Lawrence is based on the knowledge obtained from
population surveys over the years that approximately 70% of the pups are
born on the Front and the remaining 30% in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This is
the underlying principle on which the TAC is allocated to the various
Fleet shares/allocations have developed over time and are based on a number of factors, including historic catch and number of participants.
In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, harp seals were allocated to two fleet sectors; vessels less than 10.7 meters and vessels 10.7-19.8 meters in overall length. An agreement on opening dates by sealers in all geographic areas within the Gulf has been a contentious and longstanding issue.
In 2006, a new sharing arrangement will be introduced in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for one year only. This will enable individual fleets within the Gulf to decide season opening dates that are best suited to them. The new shares for 2006 are based on 10-year historical landings with consideration for Quebec North Shore. These shares are presented in Table 1.
Table 1: 2006 Harp Seal Share Percentages - Gulf of St. Lawrence
|Quebec North Shore||8%||Magdalen Islands||20%|
|Western Newfoundland||70%||Gulf/Maritime Provinces||2%|
The 2006 TAC for harp seals will be 335,000. Allocations for all sectors are presented in Table 2.
Table 2: 2006 Allocation of Harp Seal TAC
|Fleet Shares / Allocations||Share of Commercial Allocation||Total 2006 Allocation|
|Labrador||3.69 %||11 993|
|Front 35' to 65'||40.61 %||131 987|
|Front < 35'||27.29 %||88 677|
|Front Total||67.90 %||220 664|
|Gulf Newfoundland||19.89 %||64 640|
|Magdalen Islands||5.68 %||18 469|
|Quebec North Shore||2.27 %||7 387|
|NS / PEI / NB||0.57 %||1847|
|Gulf Total||28.41 %||92 343|
|Commercial Total||100.00 %||325 000|
|Aboriginal Initiatives||-||6 000|
|Personal Use||-||2 000|
The total 2006 allocation represents a ceiling and is in no way an indication of the actual number of catches. Hunt levels depend on market demand.
The allocation between areas and sectors is subject to change.
For the purpose of the allocations set out in the above table, sealers who obtain access to the seals without the use of a vessel shall be considered as sealers on vessels <35'.