The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) regulates the seal hunt in Canada. It sets quotas (total allowable catch-TAC), monitors the hunt, studies the seal population, works with the Canadian Sealers' Association to train sealers on new regulations, and promotes sealing through its website and spokespeople.
The DFO set kill quotas of over 90,000 seals in 2007, 275,000 in 2008, 280,000 in 2009, and 330,000 in 2010. The actual kills in recent years have been less than the quotas: 82,800 in 2007, 217,800 in 2008, 72,400 in 2009, and 67,000 in 2010. In 2007, Norway claimed that 29,000 harp seals were killed in its seal hunt, and Russia and Greenland claimed that 5,476 and 90,000 seals were killed in 2007, respectively.
Harp seal populations in the northwest Atlantic declined to approximately 2 million in the late 1960s as a result of Canada's annual kill rates that averaged over 291,000 from 1952 to 1970. Conservationists demanded reduced rates of killing and stronger regulations to avert the extinction of the harp seals. In response, in 1971, the Canadian government instituted a quota system. The system was competitive, with each boat catching as many seals as it could before the hunt closed, which the Department of Fisheries and Oceans did when they knew that years quota had been reached. Because it was thought that the competitive element might cause sealers to cut corners, new regulations where introduced that limited the catch to 400 seals per day, and 2000 per boat total.
A 2007 population survey conducted by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) estimated the current population at 5.5 million (95% CI 3.8 million - 7.1 million). It is illegal in Canada to hunt newborn harp seals (whitecoats) and young hooded seals (bluebacks). When the seal pups begin to molt their downy white fur at the age of 12–14 days, they are called "ragged-jacket" and can be commercially hunted. After molting, the seals are called "beaters", named for the way they beat the water with their flippers. The hunt remains highly controversial, attracting significant media coverage and protests each year. Images from past hunts have become iconic symbols for conservation, animal welfare, and animal rights advocates. In 2009, Russia banned the hunting of harp seals less than one year old.
Greenlandic people are mostly of Inuit origin. The nation's culture reflects that. Hunting is iconic to their culture and most Greenlanders still hunt at least part-time to supplement their diet and provide skins for clothing and kayaks.
Dramatic drop in seal skin prices came in the late 1980s. That drop occurred after environmental pressure led to a collapse of the seal skin market in the United States. Today, the price of the skins remains so low that most Inuit hunters tan only enough skins for personal use; they no longer process them for sale. Moreover, when asked what the single greatest threat to the traditional culture is, Qaanaaq hunter Lars Jeremiassen quickly replied, "Greenpeace". That response, (documented in 2006 by the Arctic I.CC.E. Project: Indigenous Climate Change Ethnographies,) reflects the devastating effect that environmentalist-led protests against sealing and seal products have had on the Inuit way of life, not just in Greenland, but throughout the Arctic.
The killing of baby seals does not and has never taken place in Greenland. The Greenland seals do not breed in Greenland and it is far from the Greenlandic hunting tradition to hunt baby seals, which do not carry much meat.
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