Canadians armed with rifles and clubs ventured onto ice floes off the Atlantic coast to start the annual harp seal hunt, an event that opponents say is totally unjustified.
AFP - An annual seal hunt on ice floes off Canada's eastern seaboard got under way Monday, amid renewed opposition from animal rights groups and a looming European ban on seal products.
The Canadian government announced a total allowable catch this year of 338,000 harp, hooded and grey seals, out of herds of more than 6.4 million.
The cull began as usual in the Magdalen Islands region of the Saint Lawrence Gulf and is expected to later expand northward to the east coast of Newfoundland province.
Fisheries and Oceans department spokesman Phil Jenkins told AFP 20 sealing vessels launched in the early morning and were targeting a "fairly large herd" nestled up against the Magdalen Islands.
Sixteen observer permits were also issued to activists and media to monitor the hunt, he said.
On Sunday, as hunters gathered to remember four colleagues who died last year when their crippled vessel capsized in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, activists renewed their opposition to the hunt.
The Humane Society condemned this year's slightly increased kill quota, up 5,000 from last year, saying in a statement it "flies in the face of the best available science and common sense."
The animal rights group also accused the Canadian government of a "profound lack of judgment" in setting such an "absurdly high quota."
"The last time Canada allowed this many seals to be killed, the harp seal population was reduced by as much as two thirds within a decade," it said, accusing Ottawa of trying to "wipe them out."
Fisheries Minister Gail Shea retorted the cull takes into account the advice of scientists "to ensure the seal population is maintained."
The minister reiterated Ottawa's commitment to "defend Canada's humane and sustainable seal hunt, and the livelihoods that depend on it."
In April, the European parliament is to vote on a proposed prohibition on seal products that would ban products derived from seals from being imported, exported or even transported across the 27-member bloc.
The measure still has to be approved by EU governments before it can be implemented.
Last week, Russia banned the hunting of harp seals less than a year old, after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin criticized the "bloody practice," its natural resources ministry said.
Harp seals are hunted commercially off the coasts of Greenland, Norway, the United States, Namibia, Britain, Finland and Sweden. But Canada is home to the world's largest annual commercial seal hunt.
The seals are hunted mainly for their pelts, but also for meat and fat, which is used in beauty products. In some countries, 12 to 15 week old pups were also prized for their snow-white fur.
According to the Canadian Fisheries and Oceans department, the value of the Canadian seal hunt in 2008 was seven million Canadian dollars (six million US).
It was worth 12 million dollars (10 million US) in 2007 and 33 million dollars (27 million US) in 2006.
The average price per pelt received by sealers is approximately 52 dollars (42 US).
Sealing can represent 25-35 percent of 6,000 local fishermen's total annual income, the department said.
In past years actors and activists including the Dalai Lama, Brigitte Bardot, Paul McCartney, Kim Bassinger and many others, have campaigned against the hunt.
Date created : 2009-03-23