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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian seal hunters only caught a quarter of this year's quota as the sealing industry was hit hard by the global recession, high fuel costs and plunging pelt prices.
The seven-month commercial harp sealing season, which closed on Monday, brought in 72,156 seals out of an allowable catch of 280,000. That is much lower than in 2008, when 217,857 seals were taken out of a total allowable catch of 275,000, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said on Friday.
The decline mostly reflected a sharp drop in the price that processors paid for pelts, said Scott Cantin, a spokesman for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, a federal government agency.
Prices dropped because the global economic downturn has cut demand for all kinds of luxury items, he said.
"Rising fuel costs and lower pelt costs made it uneconomical for sealers to run their boats if they were hunting for pelts that were worth a lot less."
In 2008 pelt prices were selling at C$30 ($27) a piece, while several years ago they were at C$100. This year some pelts were selling as low as C$15.
Poor weather and ice conditions throughout the latest sealing season also hindered the sealers in harvesting the animals.
The Canadian seal hunt attracted international attention earlier this year after the European Union banned imports of seal products. The ban has yet to be implemented and wasn't significant factor of this year's small seal harvest, said Cantin.
Last month, Governor General Michaelle Jean sparked controversy when she visited an Inuit community and ate raw seal heart. The governor general is the representative of Queen Elizabeth, Canada's head of state.
Animal rights activists, including Sir Paul McCartney, have called the hunt of seal pups inhumane, but Canada continues to defend its sealing policy.
Reporting by Nina Lex; Editing by Frank McGurty