iceberg vector shape


In the news

Exploring Canada's Controversial Seal Hunt: Facts and Myths

04 April 2023
Seal harvest

The seal hunt in Canada has been a controversial issue for decades, with passionate arguments on both sides of the debate. Some argue that it is a precious tradition that provides an important source of income and food for coastal communities and that the annual seal harvest is an integral part of responsible marine ecosystem management. Others view it as a cruel and unnecessary practice that harms animals and damages Canada’s reputation on the world stage. In this article, we’ll dive deep into the facts and myths surrounding the seal hunt in Canada, exploring both sides of the debate in search of the truth.

Does Canada still have a seal hunt?

Yes, Canada still allows seal hunting. Canada has one of the largest seal populations in the world. However, the government sets quotas for the number of seals that can be hunted each year, in order to ensure that the population remains sustainable. Harp seals, which live in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, account for the majority of seals harvested in Canada with a total population of 7.6 Million. [1]

Why is there a seal hunt in Canada?

Canada was established on the fur trade. The fur trade was important in the early days of Canada because it enabled European traders and explorers to build connections with Indigenous people. The seal hunt has a long history, dating back to the Indigenous people who first inhabited the Canadian region. For many years, seal hunting was and remains a vital source of food and income for coastal communities, and it is still part of the culture and traditions of several communities throughout Canada. The Canadian government also allows seal hunting in order to manage the seal population and their impact on the marine ecosystem and to preserve the culture of Indigenous and non-Indigenous coastal communities.

Is it true that seals are jeopardizing Canadian cod and other fisheries?

Yes. It is true. Despite claims by anti-sealing activists that there is no evidence to support the contention, there are proven scientific data that demonstrate the impact of seals on the fishery.


This scientific study has shown that predation by grey seals appears to currently be the main cause of cod mortality[2]. Another report also found that grey seal predation is likely to be a key contributor to the high incidence of natural mortality of American plaice[3]. White Hake constitutes a large part of the diet of both Grey Seals and Harp Seals and the number of White Hake is rapidly diminishing[4]. Grey Seal predation is a plausible cause of increased natural mortality in Winter skates[5].


Fish eaten by a seal. The seal only ate the belly highlighting the fact that there is much more waste than the 2-3 tons of fish and seafood eaten by one seal each year.


We cannot ignore the impact of seals on Canada’s marine ecosystem any longer. Canada is facing a marine species resource crisis. This will have serious repercussions throughout the ecosystem, given the complex food webs that are dependent on these species. The annual seal harvest contributes to marine biodiversity protection and a balanced ocean ecosystem.

Fish stock status numbers reported by Oceana in the 2022 Fishery Audit:


Is the seal hunt the same thing as a seal slaughter?

The terms “seal hunt” and “seal slaughter” are used interchangeably depending on one’s perspective on the issue. Those who oppose the seal hunt, however, may refer to it as a “slaughter,” as it implies a brutal and unnecessary killing of animals. But are they the same?


Let’s start with the topic that everyone is interested in. In Canada, “baby seals” or whitecoats (seal pups) are not hunting targets. Although white coats have not been harvested since 1987, cute whitecoat or “baby seal” hunting pictures are still utilized by the anti-sealing lobby and marketing. The truth is that harp seals are not allowed to be hunted legally until they have molted their first fur and are surviving on their own. The harvested seals are self-sufficient, independent animals.


In addition, the seal hunt is conducted in a humane manner and is far from being a “seal slaughter”. The three-step process[6] developed by Canada guarantees that animals are harvested promptly and humanely. The Marine Mammal Regulations (MMR) stipulate that all harvesters who desire to take part in the commercial seal harvest must have finished training on the three-step procedure for harvesting seals. 


The truth is far from the anti-sealing organizations’ allegation that seal pups are slaughtered before they are weaned and that they suffer and die slowly. Organizations that prioritize profit over animal welfare undermine the integrity of the animal rights movement.

Why is the seal hunt good?

The seal hunt is a longstanding tradition in Canada, and it is an important part of Canadian culture and economy that provides important economic and ecological benefits for Canada.


Seal hunt is sustainable


The annual seal harvest is an integral part of responsible marine ecosystem management. The Canadian government closely monitors the seal population and sets quotas for the number of seals that can be hunted each year. These quotas are based on scientific research and are designed to ensure that the population remains healthy and stable. In keeping a balanced relationship between seals and fish, sealing provides an opportunity for the sustainable growth of small-scale, community-based, commercial fisheries.


According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the harp seal population is currently estimated to be around 7.6 million[7], and the annual quota for the commercial hunt is set at 400,000. [8] In 2020, the Government of Canada total allowable catch limit for the Harp seal was only 5% of its population, and in recent years, the total number of catches only reached 10%, a fraction of that annual quota.


The seals that are hunted in Canada are not endangered species. In fact, out of the 33 species of seal found worldwide, 6 seal species can be found in Canada, and none are endangered. [9] Furthermore, the seal hunt is beneficial for other fish species in the ecosystem, as it helps to maintain a healthy balance between predators and prey.


Seal hunt provides essential income for coastal communities


Sealing is a vital activity for tens of thousands of rural Canadians, both indigenous and non-indigenous, providing economic and social benefits. Many coastal communities in Canada rely on the seal hunt for their livelihoods. In Atlantic Canada, the seal hunt provides a substantial source of income for more than 6,000 people and their families.


In certain communities, approximately one-fourth of households take part in hunting. For these individuals, hunting can constitute anywhere from 25% to 35% of their yearly earnings. Without this source of income, they may be compelled to relocate in pursuit of employment opportunities elsewhere.


Seal hunt plays a significant role in preserving these communities while also providing valuable economic support.


Seal hunts provide valuable products 


Seal hunting provides valuable and environmentally friendly products. The consumption of sustainable, natural, organic, Omega-3 oils and meat improves human health, while seal textiles are an eco-friendly alternative to non-renewable (plastic) clothing.  


  • Seal oil is extracted from the blubber of seals and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for human health and considered better than fish oil.


  • Seal meat is a lean source of protein that is high in iron and other essential nutrients. In the far north of Canada, where food prices are very high, one seal may give a family the equivalent of $200 or more in meat, along with far better nutrients.


  • Seal fur is prized for its warmth, durability, and water-resistant properties. It is used to make a variety of clothing items, such as coats, hats, and gloves, and is also used in the production of beautiful and unique Indigenous designs. Seal fur is a highly sustainable and renewable textile that offers superior quality compared to synthetic plastic materials.




Given the ongoing controversy and the importance of seal hunt to coastal communities, it is likely that the issue will continue to be a topic of discussion and debate in the years to come. However, after exploring the facts and myths surrounding the issue, we can conclude that the seal hunt is a sustainable practice that provides important ecological and economic benefits for Canada. While the debate is likely to continue, it is important to consider all the facts before reaching a conclusion prematurely.



[1] Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Science Advisory Report 2020. 2019 Status of Northwest Atlantic Harp Seals, Pagophilus groenlandicus. 2020-03-26







[8] Total Allowable Catch (TAC) numbers are set by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and announced every March, prior to the opening of the season. Harp Seal Total Allowable Capture: Current Status of Northwest Atlantic Harp Seals. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, P.10, 2012.

[9] 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. However, some science includes the Northern Elephant seal specie in British Columbia increasing the number to 7 species of Phocidae.