OTTAWA (AFP) – The Canadian government on Friday announced an increase in the number of seals to be killed in a controversial commercial hunt off its Atlantic coast.

The quota was hiked 20 percent from last year's 388,200 seals to a total of 468,200, including 400,000 harp seals and 60,000 grey seals. The hooded seals quota stayed at 8,200.

Canada's 6,000 sealers once made an average of 10 million dollars from the annual hunt, with a quarter of it from exports to Europe, according to the Canadian government.

But a lack of sea ice in one of the warmest Canadian winters on record and a European ban on seal products, according to Ottawa, ruined what was to be a banner seal hunt last year.

Most sealers stayed home, unable to find buyers for their catch or stymied by a lack of ice floes for the first time in 60 years on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, which usually hosts hordes of seals birthing pups.

In January, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea announced a deal with China to allow imports of Canadian seal meat and oils, and said she was hopeful access to this new market would restore Canada's sealing industry.

Meanwhile, Ottawa continues to contest the EU ban on imports of seal products imposed after a public outcry over the annual commercial seal hunt, which animal rights activists denounce as cruel.

The Humane Society and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) both called the increased quota "irresponsible," saying the market for pelts and seal meat was soft and a lack of sea ice again this year would lead to the birth of fewer pups.

They accused the government, which was toppled in a no-confidence vote earlier in the day, of using the seal quota to ply east coast voters in the coming election.