The following questions are from the Official brochure Questions and Answers  about the seal hunt from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada

How has the Canadian government proven its commitment to the humane treatment of seals?

The Marine Mammal Regulations stipulate that seals must be harvested quickly using only high-powered rifles, shotguns firing slugs, clubs or hakapiks. The regulations contain explicit requirements for how these tools must be used, and for assessing the consciousness of the seal.

In 2009, a number of amendments to the Marine Mammal Regulations came into force to further enhance the humaneness of the Canadian seal harvest. As a complement to detailed licence conditions, the amendments explicitly articulate Canada’s science-based, three-step process to ensure a humane harvest. The updated regulations also provide clarity for anyone monitoring or observing the harvest, who must be able to distinguish good practice from bad practice when it comes to animal welfare.

Licencing policy requires a commercial sealer to work under an experienced sealer for two years to obtain a professional licence. In addition to the two-year apprenticeship program for new sealers, governments, industry and other stakeholders deliver comprehensive information workshops in advance of the season.

How many seals are harvested each year?

Harvest levels are highly variable and dependent on environmental and market conditions.

Harp seals:

In 2009, 74,581 harp seals were harvested, compared to 217, 857 in 2008, and 224,745 in 2007.

Hooded Seals:

Fewer than 400 hooded seals have been harvested annually in Canada since 1999. There were 10 in 2009.

Grey Seals:

In 2009, 254 grey seals were harvested, compared to 1,472  in 2008 and 887 in 2007.

How old must seals be before they can be harvested?

Seals cannot be legally hunted until they have moulted their first coats and are living independently from their mothers. Seals are not usually harvested until they reach about 25 days old.

What are the current seal populations?


Harp Seals:
There are three harp seal populations in the north Atlantic, of which the stock off Canada and western Greenland is the largest. The Northwest harp seal population is healthy and abundant and has more than tripled its size since the 1970s to an estimated population of 9.8 million animals in 2008.

Hooded Seals:
There are two whelping areas for hooded seals in Atlantic Canada: one in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the other off Newfoundland and Labrador.  The Gulf of St. Lawrence component is small (approximately 10,000 animals) and harvesting of this herd is prohibited. Based on the last surveys up to 2005, the total population of Northwest Atlantic hooded seals was estimated at 600,000 animals and has continued to grow at a pace of 0.5% per year.

Grey seals:
There are two grey seal herds, with the main breeding concentrations in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and on Sable Island, Nova Scotia. The grey seal herd population is estimated to be over 300,000 animals.

What are the Total Allowable Catches (TACs)?

Commercial quotas:

A 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 harp seal TAC for 2010 is 330,000. The TACs for previous years were:

  • 280,000 in 2009
  • 275,000 in 2008
  • 270,000 in 2007

The hooded seal TAC for 2010 is 8,200. The TAC for 2007, 2008 and 2009 were 8,200.

The grey seal TAC for 2010 is 50,000. The grey seal TAC for 2009 was 50,000. The TAC for both 2007 and 2008 were 12,000. Since 2007, a small commercial grey seal harvest has taken place on Hay Island in Nova Scotia. The TAC for 2010 is 2,220.

Annual TAC decisions are made by the Minister of Fishereies and Oceans and are usually announced in early-to-mid March of the current calendar year.

Personal quotas

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. 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.

Seals have been harvested for food, fuel, shelter, fur and other products for hundreds of years. DFO encourages the fullest possible commercial use of seals. Seal products consist of leather, handicrafts, and meat for human and animal consumption as well as seal oil, which is rich in Omega-3.  New product development, for example specialized seal food products and research into the use of harp seal heart valves in human heart surgery, is ongoing.

What is the three-step process, exactly?

The three-step process for harvesting seals is a science-based approach developed to ensure that seals do not suffer unnecessarily. The three steps are:

  • Step 1) "Striking" - Sealers must shoot or strike animals on the top of the cranium, with either a firearm or a hakapik or club;
  • Step 2) "Checking" - The sealer must palpate both the left and right halves of the cranium, following striking (either with a firearm, hakapik or club), to ensure that the skull has been crushed. This ensures that the seal is irreversibly unconscious or dead;
  • Step 3) "Bleeding" – The sealer must bleed the animal by severing the two axillary arteries located beneath the front flippers and must allow a minimum of one minute to pass before skinning the animal. Bleeding ensures that the seal is dead.
What percentage of seals is harvested in the Gulf of St. Lawrence versus Newfoundland and Labrador?

Approximately 70 per cent of the commercial harvest occurs on the Front in Newfoundland and Labrador, while about 30 per cent occurs in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

What tools are used to harvest seals?

The Marine Mammal Regulations stipulate that only high-powered rifles, shotguns firing slugs, clubs or hakapiks may be used in the seal harvest. Sealers in the Magdelen Islands, the Quebec North Shore and in Western Newfoundland, where about 30 per cent of the harvest occurs, use both rifles and hakapiks (or clubs). Sealers on the ice floes on the Front (in the waters east of Newfoundland), where 70 per cent of the harvest occurs, primarily use rifles. A hakapik is an efficient tool designed to harvest the animal quickly and humanely. Changes in 2009 to the Marine Mammal Regulations prohibit the use of the hakapik as the instrument for the initial strike of seals over the age of one year.

Where are seals harvested?

There are subsistence harvests in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. The majority of the commercial seal harvest occurs on the Front in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Which species of seals are harvested?

Six species of seals – the harp, hooded, grey, ringed, bearded and harbour – are found off the Atlantic coast of Canada, although ringed and bearded seals are typically Arctic species. Of the six species, harp seals account for almost all the seals harvested commercially, with greys and hooded being a very small portion.

Why do sealers target young animals?

Young harp seals provide the most valuable pelts and market conditions are stronger for this type of pelt.