Wherever sealing takes place in the world, it is in the form of a managed hunt or cull. Regulations govern how seals can be hunted, who can hunt them, and how many can be taken.
Quotas are set in consultation with biologists and wildlife managers, applying a "precautionary approach" to ensure populations remain healthy and in balance with the ecosystems in which they live. Since adult seals typically eat between 1 and 1.4 tonnes of fish annually, the challenge of maintaining a balanced marine ecosystem has only increased as most seal populations continue to grow as commercial fish stocks fall.
Without such sustainable harvests, seal herds are controlled by starvation - often an indicator of overpopulation - and disease, both of which involve considerably more suffering than a controlled harvest.
Responsible sustainable use practices can actually improve the health and welfare of animal populations, while benefiting the communities that are dependent on coastal and marine wildlife.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN), the largest and most respected conservation organization in the world (bringing together 82 States, 111 government agencies, more than 800 NGOs, and over 10,000 scientists) supports the sustainable use of seals and other wildlife, as long as this is from abundant populations.
"The Congress also urges IUCN members to put their sustainable use principles into action by not introducing new legislation that bans the importation and commercialization of seal products from abundant seal populations." Resolution passed at the 3rd IUCN World Conservation Congress, November 2004.
Aqqaluk Lynge, Inuit Circumpolar Conference president
Addressing the UN Commission for Sustainable Development
Our aim is to preserve the best of the old as we adopt the best of the new. ... The surest guarantee of long-term environmental protection and sustainable development in the Arctic is to have Inuit on the land, hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering - taking care of our homeland.
Jacques Cousteau, ecologist and conservationist
keynote speech at an open discussion on the environment
The harp seal question is entirely emotional. We have to be logical. We have to aim our activity first to the endangered species. Those who are moved by the plight of the harp seal could also be moved by the plight of the pig, with which we make our bacon. The way [pigs] are slaughtered is horrible. We have to be logical. If we are sentimental about harp seals, which are not endangered because they are partially protected, then we have to also be emotional about pigs.
Canadian Wildlife Federation
Conservation is not an issue with the east-coast seal fishery. The Federal Government should be congratulated on their management policies in relation to the harp seals.