The Numbers

Harp seals are the most populous, and the most harvested species of seal in Canada; relatively few grey and hooded seals are taken.

Total Allowable Catch (TAC) numbers are set by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and announced every March, prior to the opening of the season:

Total Allowable Catch 2016

  • Harp seals: 400,000
  • Grey seal: 60,000
  • Hooded seals: 8,200

TACs are the maximum number of seals that can be harvested in a year; the actual number of seals harvested is generally well below this benchmark (for example, in 2014, 35,000 harp seals and 1,145 grey seals were harvested).

These quotas have remained stable for a number of years. This is possible because the seal population in Canada is abundant and healthy, as the most recent estimates show:

  • Northwest Atlantic harp seal: 7.4 million (six times the population in the 1970s)
  • Atlantic grey seal: 505,000
  • Northwest Atlantic hooded seal: 600,000

Overall, over a million seal pups are born on the ice of Canadian waters every year. Harbour seals (common seals) are protected from hunting. Some uncertainty remains around the population trend of the hooded seal, as the most recent assessment of that species took place in 2005; at the time the populations was growing at 0.5 per cent per year.

While industry is consulted, the annual TACs are based on scientific advice, taking into account reproductive rates, stock assessments, ice conditions, as well as the potential effects of climate change on the herds.

The number of individuals engaged in the seal harvest fluctuates from year to year. According to DFO statistics, in 2014:

  • 12,000 commercial licences were issued
  • 2,700 personal use licences were issued

Learn More About The Harvest

“… from the perspective of a conservation organization, the harp seal population is at a near record high with an estimated eight million individuals. Current harvest levels pose no threat to the long-term health of the species at this time.”

—World Wildlife Fund Canada, 2012