Fisheries minister increases seal hunt quota
Updated Thu. Mar. 16 2006 6:31 AM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
With this year's annual seal hunt about to get underway off Canada's East Coast, Ottawa has enraged animal rights groups by announcing new higher quotas.
Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn announced Wednesday the catch limit for 2006 has been increased to 325,000, an additional 5,000 from last year.
Hearn says the harp seal population is healthy and thriving and the hunts will go ahead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the Front, off the north coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.
A date for the Gulf hunt will be set in the next week, while the Front hunt does not typically open before April.
Hearn is stressing that the Canadian hunt is humane and economically beneficial to Atlantic Canada.
"If people only looked at it objectively, compared to any other type of hunt, they would understand what's happening," Hearn said.
According to recent figures, the industry is worth up to $20 million annually and employs up to 10,000 people, most of them in Newfoundland.
But animal rights groups strongly disagree with Hearn's analysis.
"The population models that the DFO (Department of Fisheries Oceans) relies upon are flawed and they do not include accurate estimates of the seal population," said Regina Flores of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
The hunt has also received high-profile criticism in the past, and most recently from former Beatle Paul McCartney, who visited ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence earlier this month.
He and his wife posed for photographers while petting whitecoat pups, which are not part of the hunt and are illegal to target.
Canada has not permitted a whitecoat hunt since 1987, but the pups can be killed once they lose their white fur, which can happen as soon as about 12 days after they are born.
McCartney called the hunt "barbaric" and a "stain" on the country, and urged Ottawa to replace it with subsidies for fishermen and an eco-tourism industry.
Last spring marked the final season for a three-year federal plan that allowed sealers to take a total of 975,000 seals -- most of them harp seals between 12 days and three months old.
The Humane Society of the United States, which helped organize McCartney's publicity stunt, sponsored demonstrations Wednesday at Canadian embassies and consulates in Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C.
About 60 activists demonstrated outside the federal fisheries building in Vancouver, according to a website posting by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which labelled Wednesday the international day of protest against the hunt.
Dozens of protesters also held short demonstrations in Detroit, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle and San Francisco.
The conservation organization said there were small demonstrations in Poland, Belgium, Australia, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Peru, Hungary, Croatia and Austria as well.
"Obviously this is something that divides Canada with the rest of the world and it's just time it ended," one protester said.
With a report from John Vennavally-Rao and files from The Canadian Press