MARCH 15 2012 17:29h

Canada's gray seal hunt yields just 8

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SYDNEY, Nova Scotia, March 15 (UPI) -- Seal hunters in Eastern Canada reported killing just eight gray seals this year, blaming poor weather conditions and shrinking markets.

The hunt in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence ended this week with ice too thick for boats, yet too thin to safely cross, sealer Robert Courtney told the Cape Breton Post.

He said there was a local market for the slim harvest.

The (Charlottetown) Guardian said hunters completely stayed away from several other hunting spots where they used to harvest seal meat for sale to China.

However, an agreement between Canada and China on seal products hasn't been formalized and the Chinese market is off-limits for now.

"Even though the market's there and people want the product, the border ain't open so we can't get the product into the marketplace," Courtney told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Europe and Russia have also banned Canadian seal meat and products.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans noted the harvest of gray seals is declining.

"In 2010, seven gray seals were harvested, compared to 254 in 2009, and 1,472 in 2008," the department's Web site says.

In coming days, the department is scheduled to release the allowable catch for harp seals.