Where ? How many ? What ? For What ? Benefits ?
* Harp seal quota for 2009 hunt: 280,000.
* Estimated size of the seal herd off Atlantic Canada: 5.6 million.
* Price for best seal pelts in 2006: $105.
* Price for best seal pelts in 2007: $62.
* Price for best seal pelts in 2008: Over $30.
* Expected price for seal pelts in 2009: $15.
(Source: DFO, NuTan Furs Inc.)
The hunt usually opens in March in the "Gulf" areas around the Magdalen Islands and Prince Edward Island. The main hunt on the so-called "front" usually begins in April off the east coast of Newfoundland. It's pretty much over by May.
The total allowable catch for harp seals is split between two areas: 70 per cent for the waters off Newfoundland and 30 per cent for the St. Lawrence Gulf region.
How many ?
There are federal quotas for three types of seals: harp seals, hooded seals and grey seals. Most of the hunt is for harp seals.
The 2009 harp seal total allowable catch has been set at 280,000, up slightly from the previous year.
That's down from the 2006 quota of 325,000, and about the same as the quota set from 1997 to 2002.
The catch in 2001 was 226,000. In 2000, it was just 92,000 seals.
Seal hunters do not always catch as many seals as they are allowed and sometimes they are allowed to exceed the pre-season quota.
The 2009 total allowable catch is 8,200 for hooded seals and 50,000 for grey seals.
Whitecoats are newborn harp seals. Most Canadians can recall pictures of whitecoated seal pups being clubbed. The images were so inflammatory that Canada banned all hunting of whitecoats and bluebacks (otherwise known as hooded seals) in 1987.
You'd never know that from some of the anti-sealing groups that still prominently display pictures of whitecoats on their websites and in fundraising materials. One site even features a downloadable video of people hugging whitecoats. The reality is that whitecoats can't be hunted anymore.
It's also true that young harp seals lose their white coats (and their protection) at about 12 to 14 days of age. After that, they're fair game for hunters, although they're usually about 25 days old before they're hunted. Most harp seals taken are under the age of three months. Young yes, whitecoats no.
For what ?
For hundreds of years, seals have been hunted for food, the lamp and cooking fuel made from their oil and their warm pelts. Seal products nowadays include leather, meat for animal and human consumption and seal oil, which is rich in Omega-3.
The economic value of the seal hunt is another one of those things that is open to interpretation. The federal government says the landed value of seals exceeded $16.5 million in 2005, providing a "significant" source of income for thousands of sealers — benefiting them and their families at a time when, according to the DFO, "other fishing options are unavailable, or limited at best, in many remote, coastal communities."
- The European Union typically accounts for about 15 per cent of Canada's seal exports.
- In 2007, Canada exported more than $13 million worth of seal products, including meat, oil and skins.
- South Korea and Japan were the largest consumers of seal meat, while China, South Korea and the United States bought the most seal fat and oil from Canada.
- When it comes to seal skins, about 80 per cent are sent to Norway.
(Source: 2007 data from Department of Fisheries and Oceans)