Page last updated at 09:24 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 10:24 UK

Canadian seal hunt 'collapsing'

By Lee Carter
BBC News, Toronto

A harp seal. File photo
The market price for a seal pelt has plummeted in recent years

Canada's annual seal hunt has ended with only a quarter of the quota of seals being caught.

The quota had been set at 273,000, but fishermen in Newfoundland and Labrador, eastern Canada, took some 70,000 seals.

They blame plummeting prices for seal pelts and an impending European Union ban on seal products, which is expected to come into effect in October.

Some local fishermen are wondering if this could be the beginning of the end for the centuries-old practice.

Uphill battle

Many hunters from fishing communities in eastern Canada, did not even bother taking their boats out for this year's seal hunt.

The market price for a seal pelt is about $12, a steep decline from a peak of $100 a pelt a few years ago.

The depressed value of the Russian Rouble and the subsequent erosion of one of Canada's largest markets for seal products, is partially to blame for the decline in numbers.

China is another major customer, also reeling from the global recession.

But it is clear that the prospect of a EU ban on seal products and growing international disdain for the hunt is becoming a major factor in its near collapse.

The European Parliament passed the ban in May, but it still needs the backing of EU governments. That is expected to be a formality.

Canadian fisheries officials admit that they have an uphill battle in what has become an emotional international debate.

Animal rights groups have successfully campaigned for decades against the seal hunt.

The annual kill has been a source of critical seasonal income for fishing communities already hit hard by dwindling fish stocks.

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