Canadian government defends seal hunt

Canadian officials defended the start of the annual seal hunt as a financial necessity for isolated communities, as sealers faced pressure from a possible European Union ban.

Canadian officials defended the start of the annual seal hunt as a financial necessity for isolated communities, as sealers faced pressure from a possible European Union ban.

Animal rights groups claim the hunt is cruel, difficult to monitor and ravages the seal population.

Sealers and Canada's Fisheries Department say the hunt is sustainable and humane, and earns money for isolated fishing communities in Atlantic Canada.

"The picture that has been painted in people's minds is that we have small white coat baby seals that are being clubbed over the head and skinned while they are alive. It's just so not true," Gail Shea, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, said.

"Now the population in Europe has bought into this and it has spilled over to the political arena and the politicians are trying to respond to their electorate. There's emotion and politics and they are missing facts."

The world's largest marine mammal hunt was called "inherently inhumane" earlier this month by a European Parliament committee that endorsed the bill to ban the import of seal products to the 27-member union.

The hunt exported around US$5.5 (€4m) worth of seal products such as pelts, meat, and oils to the EU in 2006.

Germany imported about US$1.6m (€1.18m) in seal products in 2006 but many EU countries do not import any, Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokesman Phil Jenkins said.

Mr Jenkins said it is important to keep some European ports open, where many seal products stop on their way to other destinations.

Fishermen sell seal pelts mostly for the fashion industry in Norway, Russia and China, as well as blubber for oil.

Canadian politicians lobbied intensely to try to convince the European committee that the hunt is humane. The bill must be approved by the entire EU assembly and EU governments to become law, a move that could come as early as next month.

Rebecca Aldworth, director of Humane Society International Canada, lauded a potential ban, and said it should prompt Canada to end the hunt altogether.

"It's clear to me that change is in the air," she said.

EU legal experts said the ban could violate world trade rules, and Canada has warned it could challenge a ban before the World Trade Organisation.

The EU bill does grant an exemption to Canada's indigenous Inuit to continue to trade seal products for cultural, educational or ceremonial purposes.

Ms Aldworth has documented on video and in photos the gruesome nature of the hunt, in which the wailing seals are bludgeoned or shot dead, their blood spilling over the ice.

New rules implemented last year are meant to ensure that seals are dead before they are skinned. Hunters are required to sever the arteries under a seal's flippers.

Registered hunters in Canada are forbidden from killing seal pups that have not shed their downy white fur, which typically happens when they are 10 to 21 days old.

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox