OTTAWA, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- The number of harp seals off Canada's east coast is increasing but may have peaked, marking the start of a possible decline in the population, officials say.
Population figures released Thursday by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will determine how many of the animals the government will allow sealers to catch in the country's annual seal hunt, Postmedia News reported.
Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield said the total allowable catch for harp seals will likely remain the same as last year's, meaning sealers will be allowed to catch as many as 400,000.
Sealers in eastern Canada say the financial future of the seal hunt is under threat following European Union and Russian bans on the import of Canadian seal products.
Russia had been the largest market for seal products, purchasing as much as 95 percent of Canadian seal product exports.
Animal activists say these two bans could mean the end of the East Coast's commercial seal hunt.