Although harp seals make up 95% of the commercial hunt, they are not the only seals hunted in Atlantic Canada: there is also a quota for10,000 hooded seals, and in recent years small numbers of grey seals have been hunted for commercial use. In addition to the commercial hunts, seals of all species are taken for subsistence purposes in Labrador and the Canadian Arctic, and harp and hooded seals may be killed for personal use by residents of sealing regions.

Many people remember the worldwide protest that arose in the 1970s over Canadas killing of whitecoat seal pups. The outpouring of public opinion at that time led to the European Union ban on the importation of whitecoat pelts in 1983, and eventually, to the Canadian government banning the large-vessel commercial whitecoat hunt in 1987.

Out of the spotlight of the world stage, the hunt for Northwest Atlantic harp seals continued and, by the mid-1990s, recorded levels of killing which had not been seen since the introduction of quotas in 1971.

The impetus for a renewed seal hunt began in 1995, when Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin increased the quota and announced new federal subsidies to encourage sealers to kill more seals. Today, the seal hunt has once again become a cause for renewed protests. This time, however, the focus of concern is on the cruelty associated with seals shot, wounded and left to die, and the setting of quotas seemingly designed to reduce the seal herd, despite the lack of scientific justification supporting a seal cull.