After 35 years of fishing out of Carmanville harbour, Larry Easton decided to skip last year's seal hunt for first time in 10 years.
And his chances of going back to it this year look slim.
Easton traditionally hunted seal, and fished for crab and caplin. In the past, the seal hunt offered an opportunity to make decent money from a week's work.
"It was always a good start to the spring, especially for the few years before last year," he said. "You could go out and turn over perhaps $40,000-$50,000 in a week or two. There's costs too, but the crew would make a good week's pay."
Low prices and minimal demand for product last year kept Easton's boat tied to the docks.
"Ice conditions were really terrible, too," he said. "There was heavier ice that came up last year. There's not as much ice this year, so we'd have to go further up north. They don't want any this year anyway."
"They" are the seal pelt buyers.
Easton, who lives in Noggin Cove, northwest of Carmanville, used to sell most of his product to Carino Company Ltd. in Dildo, but they're not buying.
Frank Pinhorn, executive director of the Canadian Sealers' Association, said most buyers are carrying old inventory.
"Some in the industry have inventory going back three or four years, and they paid a lot of money for (the pelts). It's going to be very difficult for them to recover the costs on that, simply because they paid too much for a poor-quality pelt," he said. "We're still paying the consequences for that."
This year's quotas were released last week by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). The total allowable catch is 330,000 - an increase of 50,000 - from an estimated seal population of 6.9 million.
Approximately 70 per cent of the quota is allocated to the Front, where Kittiwake Coast hunters would most likely go.
According to DFO, roughly 74,000 harp seals were killed last year, a decline of more than 60 per cent from 2008.
The average price for a pelt last year was $14, but even at $20, the hunt would be a lost cause, Easton said.
"When you look at $20 compared to what we got five or eight years ago, between $80-$100, it's a big difference."
Pinhorn said there's been no indication of what prices might be like this year, but he's not expecting much change from 2009. He anticipates fewer seals will be killed, and said the need to travel further up north will increase costs for sealers.
Easton said the quota increase is too little, too late.
"Four or five years ago, when they were worth something and we were crying for more, (DFO) wouldn't give us an increase. Now that there's no market, they give us an increase of 50,000 seals. It's crazy."
If there is to be a future for the industry, Easton said it may lie in new markets like China. In January, federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea went there to promote seal. China is Canada's second-largest trading partner and the world's largest consumer of seafood.
"If we could get (China) onside, no doubt it would be a plus for the industry," said Easton.
Europe is one market with little promise. Last July, the European Union voted to adopt a ban on all seal imports, except those coming from traditional hunts carried out by members of indigenous groups.
In any event, Easton said the hunt must continue in some form in the years to come, as the seal population can't be allowed to keep growing at the rate it has been over the last four decades, since it affects valuable fish stocks such as cod.
"The herd is growing in leaps and bounds," said Pinhorn, "and somewhere down the line, we're going to have to harvest seals."
In another world, Easton would have liked to one day get his son involved in the hunt and with his fishing enterprise, but under the circumstances, he's encouraging him to continue with his nautical science studies.
"If there was any future in it, there's nothing I'd like better than to pass this on. But there doesn't seem to be any future in this - not long-term, anyway."
A date for the start of the seal hunt has not been announced.