Harp seal hunt approved by Canada, activists call for boycott of Canadian seafood

March 23, 2005

A seal, photo by Jason L. Buberal

Ottawa says it will allow the harvest of 320,000 young seals this year, prompting a backlash from international environmental activists who call for a boycott of the Canadian fisheries products.

The seal hunt is an annual event on the ice floes off the east coast of Canada where the seal nurseries give birth. This year's hunt begins March 29, and lasts for two months.

The government reports the harp seal population is large and healthy. "The harp seal herd - the most important seal herd for this industry - is estimated at around five million animals, nearly the highest level ever recorded, and almost triple what it was in the 1970s," a Department of Fisheries and Oceans statement said. Large scale hunts will continue to be allowed until the harp seal population drops below four million.

Environmental activists protest and observe the hunt annually, but this year's larger number of seals has brought a bigger response. Observers are already in the hunt area, and officials said if too many show up they will be prevented from interfering with the hunt. The annual protests, and the publication of photos of the hunt, are a public relations problem for Canada.

Protests were held in 50 cities around the world last week, and activists say they would press consumers and restaurants to avoid Canadian fish for at least the duration of the hunt.

"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'," said Pat Ragan of the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS] to Reuters.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare sponsored two independent veterinary teams to observe the 2001 hunt which concluded the animals are often (42% of the time) killed in an inhumane manner and not in accordance with Canada's own laws.


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