Canada's hotly debated seal hunt starts
Sunday, March 26, 2006
GULF OF ST. LAWRENCE -- Sealers took to the thawing ice floes off the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday, the first day of Canada's contentious seal hunt, confronting animal rights activists who claim the annual cull is cruel.
Reporters and activists tried to get as close as permitted to the hunt on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but their presence infuriated sealers hunting for scarce animals on small, drifting ice pans.
The fishermen in the isolated island communities of Quebec and Newfoundland say the hunt supplements their meager winter incomes. They resent animal-rights activists, who they say have little understanding of their centuries-old traditions.
The hunt brought $14.5 million in revenue last year, after some 325,000 seals were slaughtered. Fishermen sell their pelts, mostly for the fashion industry in Norway, Russia and China, as well as blubber for oil, earning about $60 per seal.
The federal government maintains Canada's seal population is healthy and abundant, with a population of nearly 6 million in the Arctic north and maritime provinces.
Regulations require the sealers to quickly kill the seals with a pick or bullet to the brain. The pups also must be over 2-3 weeks old and have shed their white downy fur before being killed.
Mark Small, president of the Northeast Coast Sealers Coop, has been sealing off Newfoundland for about 40 years. He said the activists do not understand how important the hunt is to family fishermen.
"I think the Canadian public realizes these are coastal people who live off the sea and depend on the hunt to survive in small communities where the fish stocks are not there," Small told the AP in a telephone interview from St. Johns.
Animal rights activists claim the fishermen often skin the seals alive or leave some pups to die if they are not immediately knocked unconscious.
The Humane Society has had high-profile allies in celebrities like Paul McCartney and his wife, Heather Mills McCartney, who traveled to the Gulf of St. Lawrence two weeks ago to pose with the newborn pups.