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Canada denies it will curb the annual seal hunt
OTTAWA, Canada (Reuters) -- The Canadian government on Monday denied a claim by animal rights activists that it had decided for conservation reasons to cut the number of harp seals that can be culled in a controversial hunt next year.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) hailed what it said would be an announcement by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), reducing the total allowable catch to around 245,000 seals in 2001 from 275,000 this year.
"It's news to us. No decision has been made on what the quota will be next year. The minister will take the final decision," DFO spokesman Ken Jones told Reuters.
Cull to protect fish stocks
Canada allows the seal cull to protect depleted fish stocks and provide jobs in Newfoundland, in Atlantic Canada, the most economically depressed region of the country.
But pictures of hunters clubbing baby seals and allegations of unnecessary cruelty have turned the annual cull into a public relations nightmare for Canada.
IFAW said documents obtained through the access to information law showed DFO officials had written a memo showing a sustainable catch would 245,000 harp seals a year.
"They're actually listening to the voice of scientific good sense...It's a step in the right direction," IFAW national director Rick Smith told Reuters.
"If the same conservation standards used for whales were applied to harp seals the quota would be 60,000 animals."
The IFAW and other organizations have long claimed that the total annual allowable catch of 275,000 harp seals and 10,000 hood seals was clearly unsustainable -- something DFO spokesman Jones said was just not true.
"The seal population is healthy and abundant. The last population figure we had was 5.2 million in 1999, up from 4.8 million in 1994," he said, adding that independent experts hired by DFO agreed that up to 281,000 harp seals could be killed each year without harming overall numbers.
Seal hunt spans two months
The seal hunt, which usually begins in mid-March in the Gulf of St Lawrence and continues for another two months, is by far the largest cull of marine mammals in the world.
In 1998 the IFAW made a tape of the hunt, which it said showed 146 violations of laws designed to ensure the killings were as humane as possible.
"We'll be out there again this year. We feel it's in our mandate to accurately record what happens," said Smith, dismissing claims by Ottawa and the sealing industry that only a few seals were killed illegally.
"These are not isolated cases. We're been observing the hunt for several years and we regularly see animals being killed in inhumane ways," he added.
IFAW and other animal rights groups helped pressure the Canadian government to limit the hunt to about 60,000 seals annually through the 1980s and early 1990s.
Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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