Research Document - 2006/066

Hunt induced mortality in Northwest Atlantic Hooded Seals

By Stenson, G.B.


Information on catch levels and age structure of removals are necessary for accurate population estimation and responsible management of Northwest Atlantic hooded seals (Cystophora cristata). Seals are killed during a subsistence harvest in Greenland and a commercial hunt in southern Canadian waters. In addition to the reported catches, seals are also killed but not recovered (‘struck and lost’). The objective of this report is to summarize the available data on reported catches of hooded seals and to estimate total hunt-induced mortality of hooded seals for the years 1954 – 2006. Prior to the imposition of quotas in 1974, Canadian catches were highly variable, ranging from a couple of hundred to more than 25,000. Between 1974 and 1982 catches averaged 12,500 (SD = 2,000) but as a result of a collapse in the major markets, catches declined after 1982. With the exception of 1 year, annual catches were in the range of a few hundred until the mid 1990s. In 1996 a large number of bluebacks were taken illegally while a subsidy for meat resulted in catches of over 7,000 in 1997 and 10,000 in 1998. Since then, the annual harvests of hooded seals in Canadian waters have remained low. Between 1945 and 1960 moulting hooded seals were hunted by Norwegian vessels in the Denmark Strait. Annual catches ranged from 1,500 - 48,000 and averaged 14,500 (SD = 10,800). Less than 1,000 seals were taken by Norwegian scientists biennially between 1970 and 1978. Catches in Greenland were between 1,000 and 2,000 between the mid 1950s and 1972 (mean = 1,600, SD = 600). Since then catches have ranged from 3,000 - 10,000, being in the 6,000 – 7,000 range in most years. Total removals averaged 34,800 (SD = 10,200) seals between 1954 and 1960. Throughout the 1960s annual catches varied greatly. From 1974 - 1982, hooded seals catches were relatively steady averaging 24,600 (SD = 2,000). With the exception of three years (1996-98), catches have averaged 8,100 (SD = 1,900) since 1982. The majority of hooded seals are caught in Greenland. With the exception of the 1963-1982 period when Canadian catches accounted for over 70% of the annual catches, Greenland accounted for over 65% of the hooded seals killed. The proportion of young in the harvest has remained consistent with approximately 30% being young of the year. Extremely low numbers of hooded seals are killed in the Canadian Arctic or as bycatch in commercial fisheries.

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