OTTAWA – (AFP) – Canadian seal hunters, reeling from foreign bans that decimated their industry, said Thursday they are on target to increase this year’s harvest by more than 40 percent.
However, the final figure is predicted to come in far short of the government-set allowable catch of about 400,000 for the season.
Nine days into the hunt, sealers estimate their cull in the North Atlantic stands at almost 60,000 seals, compared to 69,000 for all of last year. Overall, they’re aiming for a harvest of 100,000.
“Good weather conditions and an abundant population of seals have contributed to the early success of this year’s harvest,” said Eldred Woodford, president of the Canadian Sealers Association.
Market demand for Canadian seal products is also on the rise, claimed Ariane Berube of the Magdalen Islands Sealers Association.
“We receive calls from people every day looking for Canadian seal products such as meat and Omega-3, a popular nutritional supplement, which is present in high concentrations in seal oil.”
Their statements belie a market collapse for seal meat and pelts after the European Union in 2010 banned the sale of seal products. Russia, once a key market for seal products, followed suit in 2011 with a ban on harp seal skin imports.
Ottawa maintains that the 350-year-old commercial seal hunt is humane and crucial for around 6,000 North Atlantic fishermen who rely on it for up to 35 percent of their total annual income.
Animal rights groups, however, say it is a barbaric ritual and have waged an aggressive campaign in recent years to stop it, leading to the European ban, which is now being reviewed by the WTO at the request of Canada and Norway.
In 2011, China joined Japan and South Korea as new markets for Canadian seal products by authorizing seal meat and seal oil imports. But sales have been slow to ramp up.