A Renewable marine resource

  • The annual seal harvest is an integral part of responsible marine ecosystem management
  • While many wild fish stocks are decreasing, the seal population continues to grow at a strong rate to a point it may actually threaten ecosystem biodiversity.
  • According to the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species: Harp Seal and Grey Seal are of LEAST CONCERN

Seal Populations explained by the Biologist Mr. Mike Hammill


According to a survey conducted in 2014, the Northwest Atlantic harp seal population is healthy and abundant with an estimated population of 7.4 million animals, over three times what it was in the 1970s.[ii] The total population of gray seals in eastern Canada increased from approximately 13,000 animals in 1960 to 505,000 animals in 2014.[iii]


The Department of Fisheries and Oceans of Canada sets quotas at levels that ensure the health and abundance of seal herds, and considers many factors, such as:

  • Ice conditions
  • Incidental harvest or bycatch
  • Greenland and Arctic hunts and commercial harvest levels
  • Quota over-runs
  • Etc.

The population is at the highest level seen in over 30 years and is in no way an “endangered species”.


Seal population and quota


However, scientists now believe that this great conservation story could be leading to a negative impact on fish stocks. It’s thought that the seal population consumes 15 times what the East Coast fleet fishes each year. The concern is that without proper management of the enormous seal population an imbalance in the ecosystem could lead to long-term damage on fish stocks.

The amount of fish a single adult seal can consume in a year is staggering, but unfortunately often much of that fish goes to waste. Seals have a well-documented habit of eating only the belly of a fish (known as a belly bite) and letting the rest go to waste. When it comes to expensive stocks like cod and salmon, this wasting impacts heavily on fishermen. By culling up to the recommended 60,000 grey seals a year it’s hoped that this will help balance the wasting of valuable fish stocks.

The seal can also negatively impact fish stocks in two other ways: the heavy population disturbs traditional spawning grounds and the seal can also transmit parasites to a growing number of species.


In 2014, the volume of commercial fishing in Atlantic Canada was 686 629 metric tonnes.[iv] For that same year, the value of commercial fishing in Atlantic Canada was $2.38 billion.[v] In 2012, a study conducted by the Canadian Government revealed that an adult Grey seal can consume between 1.5 and 2 tonnes of fish per year.[vi] Assuming that one tonne of fish is worth an average of 3,500 CAD$, it was estimated that the Grey seal population alone consumes over 2 billion CAD$ annually in seafood value.

In October 2012, the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans recommended the harvest of 70,000 Grey seals over a four-year period.[vii] Since this recommendation, only a handful of Grey seals have been hunted, but 150,000 were born.

do the math stat
Logo smarter seafood


The Harp seal and Grey seal are among the 41 marine species promoted by the “Smarter Seafood” Certification program implemented by Exploramer in the prospect of sustainable development and the protection of biodiversity.[viii] This program encourages restaurants and fish markets to integrated new marine species in their menus in order to:

  • Bring the population to diversify its consumption of Quebec’s marine products
  • Allow fishermen to diversify their catch
  • Contribute to reducing pressure on species at risk.