(AFP) A lack of sea ice in one of the warmest Canadian winters on record and a European boycott have ruined what was to be a banner seal hunt off Canada's Atlantic coast this month.
Canada's Fisheries Minister Gail Shea last month increased by 50,000 the allowable catch of harp seals this season to 330,000, in defiance of a ban on seal products by the European Union.
But most of Canada's 6000 sealers stayed home, unable to find buyers for their catch or stymied by a lack of ice floes for the first time in 60 years on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, which usually host hordes of seals birthing pups.
"The European boycott was devastating to the industry this year, as was the lack of ice on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence due to an exceptionally warm winter," Jean Richard, Canadian fisheries department conservation chief for the Quebec coastal region, told AFP.
"The hunt, as a result of reduced market demand, has been scaled back substantially," added Larry Yetman, fisheries resource management officer for the Newfoundland and Labrador coastal region.
Fewer than 50 sealing ships launched from Newfoundland ports, down from 500 in past years. Others would have eagerly set out to reap this year's higher pelt prices - at $US21 ($22.50), nearly double last year's prices.
But there was now only one local buyer, NuTan Furs, which said upfront it would buy fewer than 15,000 pelts from a dedicated group of sealers this year.
"Every sealer in Newfoundland would have considered going out on the ice for that price, but there aren't any buyers," Yetman said. …