TORONTO — Canada’s annual seal hunt got under way Thursday despite a dwindling market for pelts following a European Union import ban and slumping demand.

Nelson Kalil of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada department said about 40 boats are expected to head to Newfoundland and Labrador for this season’s hunt, the world’s largest.

The department has increased this year’s quota by 50,000 animals to 330,000 because hunting restrictions have resulted in a rising seal herd population, estimated at 6.9 million — more than triple what it was in the 1970s.

However, Frank Pinhorn of the Canadian Sealers Association, said sealers will take a fraction of the annual quota because only one of the four regular purchasers is buying harp pelts this year.