Mass seal hunt sparks outrage
ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland -- Canada is once again at the center of an environmental row as it begins the largest seal hunt in more than half a century.
The federal government has given fishermen permission to kill hundreds of thousands of harp seals beginning Monday off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Up until the end of May, fishermen are expected to kill about 350,000 seals -- making it the largest single cull in more than 50 years.
The Canadian seal cull almost died out amid international outrage 25 years ago.
Ottawa has since banned the killing of baby seals. Hunters must now wait until pups are at least 12 days old, when they have been weaned and begin to shed their white coats.
However, the hunt has been growing steadily in size over the past six years. While many countries have banned the importation of seal products, the Canadian industry brought in about $15 million last year.
The federal government maintains that harp seals are not an endangered species. In fact, Ottawa says Atlantic seals -- which number more than five million -- are responsible for the depletion of cod stocks.
Advocates claim the seal hunt is vital to the local economy, which needs to counterbalance the declining cod fishing industry.
Still, this year's cull is drawing criticism from animal rights activists around the world.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare is critical of the way many of the seals are killed. It says some sealers use a primitive weapon with a metal spike on the end of a wooden pole.
The Humane Society of the United States took out a full-page ad in The New York Times criticizing the hunt.
The ad -- under the heading "O Canada. How could you ... again?" -- says the country "still permits the clubbing of baby seals."
John Efford, Canada's minister of natural resources, responded by saying the advertisement is incorrect to suggest the hunters are killing baby seals.
"It's not misleading, it's absolutely wrong," he told the Globe and Mail, a national Canadian newspaper.
"It can't be any more wrong to say we're killing baby seals when we're not."
But absent for this year's protest are the likes of French actress and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot, who in the 1970s famously flew to the Canadian ice floes to stand between the seals and their hunters.
Greenpeace, which was at the forefront of the anti-seal hunt campaign, has decided not to take part this time in order to focus on other concerns -- such as climate change and genetically-modified foods.