ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland, April 11 (UPI) -- Canadian harp seal hunters were working in the Gulf of St. Lawrence Wednesday with a quota of 400,000 seals for a vastly diminished international market.
The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans opened the hunt Tuesday and a second larger hunt will open Thursday off the northeastern coast of Newfoundland, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said.
The most recent research by the department estimated there are as many as 9 million harp seals in the areas, up from as many as 7 million in 2004.
Five years ago and earlier, sealers could earn more than $100 per animal, primarily their pelts. That fell to $15 in 2010 and this year the going rate is around $27, the CBC said.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare said it would have observers and protesters shadowing seal hunters again this year.
The European Union and Russia will no longer import any Canadian seal products from the commercial harvests and while China said last year it might resume imports, it hasn't yet.
In an editorial, the pro-hunt Western Star newspaper in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, acknowledged the hunt is threatened.
"Sadly, animal rights protesters seem to have finally won the public relations war after decades of twisting the truth and few people outside Newfoundland and Labrador would be caught using any product made from seals," the newspaper said. "If nobody wants the pelts and other seal products, the hunt will die a slow death."