Canada Unveils Annual Seal Hunt, Blasts Activists
OTTAWA — Canada said Tuesday it would allow 320,000 young seals to be killed this year and lashed out at activists who promise to boycott Canadian seafood products in a bid to stop the hunt.
Ottawa says the cull is needed to control a healthy seal population. But pictures of hunters clubbing defenseless animals to death has turned the event into an annual public relations nightmare for the government.
The two-month hunt, which this year starts March 29, takes place on ice floes off the Atlantic coast where the seals give birth. Canada says the hunt is humane, but animal rights groups insist many animals are skinned alive and die in agony.
Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan said the activists were issuing "misleading rhetoric and sensational images that tell a selective, biased and often false story" about the hunt.
"It is a real disgrace to have such negative light being cast on the Canadian men and women of this industry... These carefully-orchestrated campaigns twist the facts of the seal hunt for the benefit of a few extremely powerful and well-funded organizations," he said in a statement.
Officials say the population of harp seals is now five million animals, triple what it was in the 1970s, and it wants the number reduced to 3.8 million.
Ottawa says the cull protects depleted fish stocks and provides jobs in the economically depressed eastern province of Newfoundland. The province's cod fishery collapsed a decade ago and some fishermen says seals were partly to blame.
Anti-hunt activists, who last week held protests in 50 cities across the world, said they would press ahead with calls for a boycott of Canadian seafood.
The Canadian fishing industry exports around C$3 billion ($2.5 billion) a year to the United States while the seal hunt generates just C$16.5 million a year, mostly from the sale of the pelts.
"I think that they (the Canadian government) are feeling the heat ... they can see the really serious implication of going ahead with the hunt this year," said Pat Ragan of the Humane Society of the United States.
Ragan told Reuters the campaign would target restaurant chains such as Red Lobster -- a unit of Darden Restaurants Inc. -- which buy Canadian seafood.
"We're going to be encouraging consumers to enter into dialogue with their grocery stores and their restaurants and say 'Please don't serve Canadian seafood' or 'I won't buy Canadian seafood until this hunt is over," she told Reuters.