Canada's biggest seal hunt in 50 years
began off the coast of Newfoundland on Monday to howls of protest
from animal rights advocates, but buoyed by international markets
for pelts and sympathetic domestic newspaper editorials.
"This hunt is bigger than it's ever been," said Rebecca
Aldworth, who is leading the anti-hunt campaign at the
International Fund for Animal Welfare.
"When you see this hunt for yourself, there is very little way
that you can walk away supporting it."
Canadian hunters launched one of the biggest seal culls in decades on the ice floes of Newfoundland and Labrador, ignoring the protests of animal rights groups. (AFP/OFF/File)
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans authorized an increase
in the quota for northwest Atlantic harp seals and officials
expect this season's hunt to reach 350,000. Last year's catch
Ottawa says there are valid environmental reasons for allowing
the hunt to continue.
"Our position is based on science. Right now the harp seal
population off Canada's east coast is booming -- 5.2 million as
opposed to less than a third of that in the 1970s," said
department spokesman Steve Outhouse.
"Most Canadians are okay with the hunt in principle as long as
it's being done in a way that is sustainable and as humanely as
The first leg of this year's hunt took place in the last week
of March on the ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence near
Quebec's Magdalen Islands. Sealers there took an estimated 90,000
The Newfoundland hunt, centered off the northeast coast of the
province, is expected to last only about two days, with sealers
taking 140,000 of the marine mammals each day.
Some 350 small boats are expected to participate, according to
the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union, which represents hundreds
workers in Newfoundland's fishing industry.
For many of the sealers, most of whom also fish for cod or
crab, the seal hunt is the first seasonal income they will make
this year, said Earl McCurdy, head of the union,
"It's a significant economic activity. The return for the last
couple of years has been in the range of C$15 million ($11
million)," McCurdy said.
SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS
After rising international outrage over the hunt in the 1970s
and 1980s forced the collapse of historic European markets for
seal pelts, Canada passed legislation in 1987 that restricted the
methods used to hunt seals.
Ottawa banned the killing of whitecoat seal pups younger than
12 days and limited sealers to the use of small boats rather than
large commercial vessels.
As markets for seal skins and products slowly revived in
eastern Europe and Asia, the hunt's economic benefits were seen as
an important way to replace income lost when the centuries old cod
fishery collapsed in the early 1990s.
But animal rights groups say the cull of defenseless seal pups
two weeks to three months old amounts to nothing less than a
slaughter of the innocents. The seals are clubbed or shot to death
on the ice floes where the mammals give birth and prepare to mate
before heading to the Arctic.
"It's a slaughter of one of the world's greatest wildlife
spectacles," said IFAW's Aldworth.
"The seal nursery is absolutely pristine and beautiful just
days before the hunters come. And then, just days later, that
peace on the ice is shattered by the hunters who club and shoot
everything in sight."
Despite criticism from animal rights groups and intense
scrutiny from international media, the seal hunt still has broad
support in the Canadian press.
On Saturday, Montreal's Gazette mockingly noted that
"limousine liberals from Manhattan to Knightsbridge are fretting
and signing petitions about the fate of the cute little seals off
Canada's east coast."
The newspaper then offered a recipe for seal-flipper pie, a
traditional Newfoundland dish.
© Copyright 2004 Reuters Ltd