Fishermen face activists' fury over biggest seal cull in two decades

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Thousands of Canadian fishermen, watched by outraged animal rights activists, made their way to ice floes off the coast of Newfoundland yesterday to begin what is expected to be the largest seal cull in 20 years.

Thousands of Canadian fishermen, watched by outraged animal rights activists, made their way to ice floes off the coast of Newfoundland yesterday to begin what is expected to be the largest seal cull in 20 years.

Wielding rifles and, in some cases, clubs known as hakapiks, the fishermen are expected to kill 140,000 seals today - some no more than three weeks old. By the end of next month, about 350,000 seals will have been killed and their skins sold to burgeoning fur markets, particularly in eastern Europe.

The seal hunt has grownas fishermen, threatened by dwindling local cod stocks have sought alternative sources of income. They say the growing seal population, estimated at more than five million, chokes off cod fisheries and is legitimate prey.

This year, however, they have faced opposition from animal rights groups hoping to capitalise on the same public outrage tapped by Brigitte Bardot and other animal lovers 20 years ago, when seal hunting was brought to a virtual standstill. Some groups have taken out full-page advertisements in US and Canadian papers. Others have urged a tourist boycott of Canada.

Not everyone feels the outrage is justified. Greenpeaceis sitting out this issue, citing more pressing concerns such as global warming and GM crops. The Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper recently said the campaign was a non-issue designed "for city dwellers whose earliest understanding of nature comes via Walt Disney".

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