Campaigners kept away from Canadian seal hunt

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The Independent US

The biggest seal hunt for more than half a century will start today in Newfoundland out of public view because, the Canadian authorities allegedly refused to co-operate with animal rights activists wishing to document the slaughter.

The biggest seal hunt for more than half a century will start today in Newfoundland out of public view because, the Canadian authorities allegedly refused to co-operate with animal rights activists wishing to document the slaughter.

Campaigners estimate that today and tomorrow, more than 140,000 baby harp seals will be either clubbed or shot to death by 3,500 fisherman in a hunt driven by an increased worldwide demand for seal pelt products.

This year's seal hunt in Canada, in which 350,000 animals will be killed, has created the sort of international controversy last seen two decades ago when a global outcry against the slaughter in effect ended the seal skin market. Celebrities such as Brigitte Bardot led the campaign, which said baby seals were often being skinned alive by hunters.

The Canadian federal authorities say new regulations mean white-furred seals not yet weaned from their mothers are no longer killed and the animals are treated in a more humane way. They say the seal population can tolerate a high quota of animals to be killed.

Campaigners say the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) which oversees the hunt off the Newfoundland coast, is trying to stop the public from witnessing the hunt. Rebecca Aldworth, a campaigner with the International Fund for Animal Welfare said it had applied to the DFO for the necessary permits but the department had not provided them. "We had a lot of people who wanted to come and see this," she said. "But the DFO says you have to have a permit to go on the ice. We called them last Thursday but they did not return our calls. The office will not be open again until Tuesday and there is a two day wait for the permits. By then the vast majority of the hunt will be over." She added: "I think it is very deliberate. This is public space but the DFO treats it as though it is the property of the seal hunters. Our point is that if you go out and see for yourself there is no way you could come back and support the hunt."

The hunt in eastern Canada traditionally takes place in two phases, the first in the Gulf of St Lawrence, which finished 10 days ago, and the second, bigger hunt that takes place on the so-called "front" up to 100 miles off the Newfoundland coast.

The fishermen who participate in the hunt say the seal pelts bring a much needed boost at a time of year when finances have run low.

Campaigners say few fishermen will earn more than a few hundred dollars from the hunt.

The Canadian government has accused the campaigners of deliberately misleading the public. After several groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, took out full-page newspaper adverts with the message "O Canada. How Could you ... Again?", John Efford, the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources, said the activists were trying to harm the welfare of the fishermen.

"It's not misleading, it's absolutely wrong," Mr Efford, a former Newfoundland fisherman, told The Globe and Mail. "It can't be any more wrong to say we're killing baby seals when we're not."

A spokesman for the Prime Minister, Paul Martin, said many environmental groups had stopped protesting against the hunt. "They realise that with so many seals, it's kind of hard to say this is something that has to stop," said Mario Lague. "The bottom line is this is an industry that is environmentally responsible."

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