Seal hunt set to resume off Newfoundland’s coast

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Canada’s controversial East Coast seal hunt moves to the ice floes off northeastern Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday with sealers expected to slaughter 234,000 animals.

Once again, animal-rights activists will be present to document the final phase of the annual harp seal hunt, which the Canadian government insists is humane and sustainable.

Hunters already have taken their quota of 91,000 seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence hunt, which ended last week.

“People were apprehensive about the ice in the gulf, but it was a very good year and the quotas were caught very fast,” said Roger Simon, spokesman for the federal Fisheries Department.

Fisheries officials said between 200 and 300 boats are already anchored off northeastern Newfoundland and Labrador, waiting for the last instalment of the hunt to begin.

Hundreds of hunters will kill and skin as many animals as they can Wednesday. There will be no hunting Thursday, when Fisheries officials will count the pelts to see if the quota has been met.

The hunt will continue if the quota has not been reached.

Labrador MP Todd Russell will be among those taking part. The federal politician has his sealing licence and said he supports the annual hunt.

Russell told VOCM radio in St. John’s that he wants to show everyone that the hunt is humane and well managed.

Protesters with the International Fund for Animal Welfare say they will be photographing the slaughter from a helicopter. They plan to use the scenes of carnage to promote a trade ban on Canadian seal products.

“If we can stop the markets for seal products, hopefully, we can reduce the number of seals being killed,” Sheryl Fink, spokeswoman for the IFAW, said in an interview Tuesday.

Fink said international opposition to the annual Canadian hunt is growing.

“Between January and March of this year, we’ve had Greenland, Mexico and Italy put in place either full bans or temporary suspensions on the import of Canadian seal skins, and now Croatia has banned the import of Canadian seal skins,” she said.

The United States also has a long-standing ban on the import of marine mammal products.

Canada’s biggest market for seal pelts always has been, and remains, Norway.

The commercial seal hunt in Atlantic Canada in 2005 created more than $16.5 million in direct sales of product.

The primary market is the sale of pelts from beater seals — weaned pups between three weeks and three months of age. Beater skins fetch upwards of $50 each on fur markets.

Newfoundland sealer Mark Small said that contrary to what hunt opponents are saying, the market for seal products is strong and growing.

“It’s a great success story,” he said of the seal industry.

Canadian Fisheries officials estimate the size of the East Coast harp seal population at close to six million.