From: David Ljunggren, Reuters
Published March 30, 2007 12:00 AM

Canada Scales Back Seal Hunt Because of Poor Ice

OTTAWA -- The number of young harp seals that Canadian hunters can kill off the east coast this year will be cut by a quarter, mainly because of poor ice conditions where the animals give birth, officials said Thursday.

The federal fisheries ministry also promised stricter controls on hunters to stop them killing more than their quota. The seals are either shot or clubbed to death on ice floes in a hunt that animal rights protesters say is inhumane.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans set this year's seal quota at 270,000 animals, down from 335,000 in 2006. It estimates the east coast harp seal herd is around 5.5 million.

The hunt had been set to begin March 28 but no start date has yet been announced. The first stage takes place on ice floes to the south of the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St Lawrence.

Officials and animal rights activists said earlier this week there was very little ice to the south of the islands and that many more pups than usual had drowned. The seals use the ice floes to give birth to their young.

"There are poorer ice conditions than usual in the southern Gulf ... the area that we are concerned about is significant but it is one small piece of the overall hunt," said Kevin Stringer of the ministry.

"The decrease this year is very substantial ... we think it's an important move and is sustainable."

The hunt around the Magdalen Islands usually accounts for around 20 percent of the overall catch. Most seals are killed off the coast Newfoundland, further to the north.

Stringer said hunters would still be allowed to kill seals south of the Magdalen Islands.

"It's appalling ... they're actually talking about allowing the hunt in the southern Gulf to proceed to wipe out the few remaining seal pups there," said Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society of the United States.

"I think it shows that the Canadian government has a clear agenda to exterminate seals and nothing is going to divert them from that course," she told Reuters.

Stringer said it was possible that around 90 percent of the pups born in the southern Gulf this year could die but said if this were the case, it would not necessarily have a big impact on overall seal herd health.

"Seals pup for 15 or 20 years so what happens in one specific part of the hunt in one specific year needs to be considered in this broader perspective," he told reporters on a conference call.

Stringer said that to ensure seal numbers stayed healthy, hunters who caught more than their share would have their quota cut next year. The amount of time hunters can spend on the ice would be cut to allow inspectors to make sure quotas had not been exceeded, he added.

Ottawa also decided that the next proper survey of harp seal numbers would be carried out in 2008 and not in 2009 as originally planned.

"With harp seals facing a growing threat from global warming and poor ice conditions, continuing the hunt at the unsustainable level announced today is nothing short of irresponsible," said Sheryl Fink of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Source: Reuters

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