The Canadian government plans to bring charges against a conservation group which it said came too close to sealers as it protested against the country’s annual hunt.
Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn announced in parliament that he would take legal action against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and its vessel, the Farley Mowat, for allegedly breaking a law that requires them to maintain a specific distance from the hunt.
Mr Hearn said the vessel ventured too close to a group of fishermen as they hunted seals on ice floes north of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, on Sunday.
“We will not tolerate the reckless antics of the Sea Shepherd Society,” he said.
Joshua Zanin, a spokesman for the minister, would not say what charges the conservation society could face or if any other action is being considered against the controversial group, which has a history of confrontations on the ice floes.
A Fisheries Department official said people who had an observation licence must remain 32ft from sealing operations, while those without a licence must remain a half a nautical mile away.
One sealer said the Farley Mowat, a 177ft long steel-hulled ship, came about within 98 feet of the much smaller sealing boat.
Paul Watson, president of the Sea Shepherd Society, has denied that the Farley Mowat got too close to the hunt. He dismissed the suggestion of charges, saying his vessel was Dutch-registered and did not have to submit to Canadian regulations.
“What Hearn’s trying to do is to dissuade us from going back in those waters and that’s not going to work,” he said from his vessel in St Pierre-Miquelon, south of Newfoundland, where it is preparing to head out again to the hunt.
“Canada has no legal authority to dictate where we can navigate within those waters.”
Watson also claims his ship was intentionally rammed twice by the coastguard icebreaker Des Groseilliers over the weekend and had a video recording of the confrontation. He said his lawyers were considering legal action against the vessel.
But fisheries chiefs said their vessel was “grazed” twice by the Farley Mowat.
The conflicting accounts come as the fisheries department prepares to resume the search for a sealer who disappeared last Saturday when his vessel capsized while under tow by a coastguard icebreaker, Sir William Alexander.
The bodies of three other sealers were recovered from L’Acadien II when it overturned north of Cape Breton.