Seal hunters on the East Coast have started preparing for this year's spring hunt, but a narrowing market for pelts exacerbated by international bans has some wondering if the annual practice is going to happen at all.

"Right now we're in a situation where we don't have very many markets," said Jim Winter, president of the Canadian Sealers Association.

The nation's sealing industry was dealt a sharp blow last year when Russia, a significant buyer, joined the European Union in banning commercial seal products from Canada.

Now, with weeks to go before hunters plan to launch their boats off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, Winter said he's concerned that the lucrative practice is in a state of limbo.

"It's a question of economics," he told CTV's Canada AM on Monday. "If there is no market, no buyers, there's not much point in taking the seals."

Before a hunter heads out to The Front, the name many use when referring to the N.L. hunt, preparations must be made; boats must be readied, risks must be weighed. But if there's no demand for pelts, Winter said he feels less inclined to participate in the hunt.

"Everybody's looking at it and saying, ‘Well I'm not going to go if I can't make money' because that's what it boils down to," he said in an interview from St. John's, N.L.

According to the federal Fisheries Department, up to 90 per cent of Canada's exports of harp seal pelts have been shipped to Russia in previous years.

This isn't, however, the first time the market for Canada's seal pelts has shrunk. The EU banned the import of seal products in 2010, a contentious move. The U.S. banned the import of seal products in 1972.

While the actions of international buyers have hurt the industry, Winter said the effects of seal product bans have devastating consequences for Canada's northern population.

"They have less options than we do," said Winter, who added that the EU product ban was particularly difficult for Nunavut.

The quota for this year's seal hunt hasn't been set yet but Winter noted that there will still be a number of seals killed, despite decreased demand.

"Some of the buyers might be taking small numbers," he said. "The numbers will be vastly reduced and the number of participants will be vastly reduced."