Technical Briefing on the Harp Seal Hunt in Atlantic Canada
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Slide 1 - The Atlantic Seal Hunt - Sustainable, Viable and Humane
- March 2005
Slide 2 - The Atlantic Seal Hunt - Overview
(Click on image to enlarge)
The Canadian seal hunt takes place in and around the primary whelping
patches off Canada’s Atlantic Coast.
These whelping patches occur off the northwestern coast of Newfoundland
(commonly referred to as the Front) and in and around the
Magdalen Islands and Prince Edward Island (commonly referred to as the
Slide 3 - The Atlantic Seal Hunt - Overview
- There are six species of seals off the Atlantic
coast of Canada (harp, hooded, grey, ringed, bearded and harbour). Almost all
hunting is directed at harp seals.
- In 2004 there were 15,468
seal licences issued (8,778 professional, 4,999 assistant, and 1,691 personal
use). By comparison, in 1995 there were only 9,118 professional and 1,265
personal use licences.
- To become a professional
sealer, an individual must apprentice under a professional sealer for two years.
This ensures that appropriate training and skills are passed on.
- There are no quotas set on
ringed, harbour or bearded seals, but licenses and permits are used to control
any commercial harvest of these seals.
Slide 4 - The Atlantic Seal Hunt - Overview
- The existing Atlantic Seal Harvest Management Plan 2003-2005, allows
for the harvest of 975,000 harp seals over three years with a Total
Allowable Catch (TAC) of up to 350,000 animals in any two years.
- For the 2005 seal hunt there remains a quota of 319,517.
- The TAC for hooded seals remains at 10,000 per year with no hunt
allowed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
- A TAC of 10,000 grey seals has been established over two years with no
hunt of these animals on Sable Island.
- The hunt for whitecoats (harp seal pups) and bluebacks (hooded seal
pups) has not been permitted since 1987.
- The majority of sealing occurs between March and May. In 2005, the
main hunt in the Gulf will be opened on March 29 and the main hunt on the
Front will be opened on April 12. Openings and closures are done to ensure
an orderly hunt for animals with prime pelts.
Slide 5 - A Sustainable Hunt
- Canada’s seal population is healthy and abundant. The harp seal herd — the
most important seal herd for this industry — is estimated at around five
million animals, nearly the highest level ever recorded, and almost triple
what it was in the 1970s.
- Canada subscribes to the precautionary approach outlined in the Rio
- A key requirement in the application of the precautionary approach to
marine resources is that conservation, precautionary and target reference
points be established as well as specific management actions to guide
managers in managing the resource.
- As such, seals are managed under the Objective-Based Fisheries Management
Approach (OBFM), which adopts warning reference points at 70%, 50% and 30%
of the maximum observed population size.
- This management regime was adopted following extensive consultations and
a Seal Forum in 2002.
- Over 200 organizations from industry, government, aboriginal,
conservation and animal rights groups were invited to provide their input on
the proposed management regime.
Slide 6 - Objective-Based Fisheries Management (OBFM)
(Click on image to enlarge)
Slide 7 - A Sustainable Hunt
- One reason for this very conservative OBFM
framework is the lag time between seal pup production and seals coming of
age to breed. Another reason is, indeed, the fact that all marine
populations are subject to variables like climate change, ice conditions
and the availability of prey.
- Under this approach, the seal hunt is managed on socio-economic
considerations until such time as the 70% population level is reached.
- At the 70% reference point (population estimate of 3.85 million), a
new management strategy will be adopted to return the population to above
the 70% threshold.
- In the event the population dropped to the 50% reference point (2.75
million), significant conservation measures would be implemented.
- If circumstances resulted in the decline of the population to the 30%
reference point (1.65 million) all removal of seals would be stopped.
Slide 8 - A Sustainable Hunt
- Our management plan for the annual seal hunt is
based on solid science that is reviewed by scientists from Canada, the
United States and Europe. We monitor the population yearly, and conduct an
intensive survey every five years.
- In fact, the Department recently completed a survey
in 2004, and the results will be available shortly, in time to begin
planning a management approach for the 2006 hunt.
- Scientists from around the world will participate
in the review of the 2004 survey results. In addition, scientists from the
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the World Wildlife
Federation (WWF) will be invited to participate in this review.
- With this scientific data in hand, the Department
of Fisheries and Oceans develops a management plan, based on sound
conservation principles. We establish a healthy baseline for the hunt that
ensures a seal herd of 70 per cent of its highest known abundance.
- Our goal is simple: to maintain a healthy, strong,
sustainable population for years to come.
Slide 9 - A Viable Hunt
- The seal hunt is an economically viable activity
and is not subsidized by the government of Canada.
- The commercial seal hunt in Atlantic Canada in 2004
was the source of more than $16.5 million in direct revenue from the sale
of product. This is up from the estimated $13 million value for 2003 but
down from the estimated value of $21 million in 2002.
- The seal harvest in Atlantic Canada has been
directed at beater pelt sales (independent harp seals between 25 days and
13 months of age). The primary market is for beater pelts, which can
fetch up to $70 each in strong markets.
Slide 10 - A Humane Hunt
- Numerous organizations have studied the hunting
methods used in the Canadian seal hunt and they have found them to be
- The hunting methods presently used were studied by
the Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing in Canada and they found that
the clubbing of seals, when properly performed is at least as humane as,
and often more humane than, the killing methods used in commercial
slaughterhouses, which are accepted by the majority of the public.
- Methods used to kill seals in Canada were found to
be generally more humane than the shooting of animals for sport. The
Commission also found that no methods of killing which have come to their
notice, other than clubbing or shooting, achieve acceptable standards of
Slide 11 - A Humane Hunt
- In September 2002, the Canadian Veterinary Medical
Association (CVMA) issued a Special Report on Animal Welfare and the
Harp Seal Hunt in Atlantic Canada.
- Results of independent observations of the seal
hunt made by representatives and veterinarians of the CVMA in recent years
were reported, and compared to observations made by the International Fund
for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
- The conclusion of the CVMA study is that virtually
all seals taken during the hunt (98 per cent) are killed in an acceptably
Slide 12 - A Humane Hunt
- To help ensure proper conservation, the Department
will continue to emphasize at-sea surveillance, conduct dock-side checks,
monitor quotas, and check sealers for proper licence and observation
permits; as well as ensure humane hunting practices, compliance with
Marine Mammal Regulations, and the proper use of hunting instruments.
- In 2003, amendments were made to the Marine
Mammal Regulations to enhance the humane killing of seals. These
regulatory changes included the introduction of testing methods (blinking
reflex test) to establish a clearer determination of death before
- This is meant to ensure that animals are checked
for death after they are shot or clubbed. It was also mandated that
sealers land either the pelt or carcass of seals taken commercially. This
makes it illegal to harvest seals for only smaller parts such as organs.
Gear restrictions were also imposed, preventing the use of nets for all
Slide 13 - Sealing Vessels
- Both the Front and Gulf hunts are pursued by small
vessels (less than 35’) and longliners (35’-65’).
- Vessels greater than 65’ are not allowed to participate in the hunt
except as collector vessels.
- The small vessel hunt is conducted fairly close to shore and usually
involves a crew of 2-5 sealers depending on vessel size.
- Vessels generally land daily to offload their catches.
- The longliner (vessels 35’-65’) fleet operates in both the Gulf and on
- These vessels carry larger crews and tend to stay out for a few days
at a time.
Slide 14 - Sealing Vessels
A typical longliner at the
seal hunt (vessel 35-65’ in length)
Slide 15 - Sealing Vessels
Longliners departing for
the sealing grounds.
Slide 16 - Sealing Methods
- Rifles are used most often on the Front where ice
floe conditions make it difficult to get close enough to the seals to use
a hakapik until after they have been shot.
- Approved hunting methods include the use of
regulated rifles and shotguns, clubs and hakapiks.
- Hakapiks are the tool of choice in the Gulf where
sealers are readily able to access ice pans and get close to the seals.
Slide 17 - 2005 Consultations
- 2005 marks the final year of the existing
three-year seal management plan. This plan was developed in consultation
with stakeholders and interest groups in 2002.
- In order for the Department to develop a new
multi-year seal management strategy for 2006 and onwards, a Seal Forum is
being planned for September 2005.
- The forum will include participants from industry,
governments, scientists, aboriginal, conservation and animal rights
- The 2005 Seal Forum will provide stakeholders with
the opportunity to provide input on various scenarios to manage the seal
hunt in the future based on the latest population numbers from the 2004
harp seal survey.