Canada says 275,000 seals can be killed this year

Mon Mar 10, 2008 4:52pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Hunters will be allowed to kill 275,000 young harp seals on the ice floes off eastern Canada this year, the government said on Monday, a number that animal rights activists said was totally unsustainable.

The quota is slightly more than last year's 270,000, when ice conditions were poor, but considerably below the 335,000 set in 2006.

Phil Jenkins, a spokesman for the Fisheries and Oceans Department, dismissed suggestions that the harp seal herd was in danger of shrinking.

"The seal herd is healthy and abundant right now at about 5.5 million animals. We want to see it continue to be healthy and so over the years we have brought back the total allowable catch," he said.

The animals are either shot or clubbed to death in a hunt that takes place in March and April each year. The furs are turned into clothes and there is a growing market for seal oil, which is rich in omega 3 fatty acids.

Activists complain the hunt is cruel and say they often catch sealers killing animals in an inhumane way. Ottawa says that from this year hunters will be obliged to take extra steps to ensure the seals die humanely.

Sheryl Fink of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said she was stunned at the quota, which she described as unsustainable.

"There is absolutely no way this increase in quota can possibly be justified," she said in a statement.   Continued...

<p>A " ragged jacket" harp seal (L) which still has its baby white coat on rests on an ice pan with another harp seal off the coast of Cape Breton island, Canada, March 26, 2006. Canada's government, heavily criticized for allowing hunters to shoot and club to death hundreds of thousands of seals each year, says it is imposing new rules to ensure the animals are killed more humanely. REUTERS/Paul Darrow</p>