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Last leg of Canadian seal hunt begins

5/31/2006

ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland — The last leg of Canada's
contentious seal hunt began recently with little protest on the ice
floes off northwestern Newfoundland.

The harp seal hunt, which has drawn protests since the 1960s,
was supposed to open last week, but was postponed due to bad
weather. There were no reports of protesters on the first day, who typically
do not venture to the vast expanse of ice floes.

"The conditions out there right now are pretty good," said
Larry Yetman, the Department of Fisheries staff officer for marine
mammals.

But Paul Watson, head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society,
complained of rough weather in a posting on the society's Web site
Friday.

"We came to confront the sealers, but we have been forced by
the elements to be spectators of Mother Nature's rage as she
hurtles waves, wind, ice, and snow onto the rocky coasts of
Newfoundland," he wrote.

Canada says the hunt brings $16.5 million in badly needed income
to its coastal communities, primarily from pelt sales to Norway,
Denmark and China. Animal activists condemn the hunt as barbaric.
The United States bans imports of seal products.

Fisheries officials will determine how many seals were killed
the first day before deciding whether to reopen the hunt for a
second day.

This year marks the final season for a three-year federal plan
to allow sealers to take 975,000 seals — most of them weeks-old
harp seals that have been weaned. The hunt takes place annually,
but the government sets three-year quotas.

The catch limit for this season was just under 320,000.
Approximately 210,000 of the total allowable catch for this year
remained to be taken off the coast of Newfoundland, mainly by
hunters armed with rifles, clubs and spears.

The seal hunt begins about two weeks after the seal pups are
born and before their fur changes from white to gray. Animal rights
activists say the pups are clubbed to death and often skinned
alive, but sealers and government officials insist the pups die
instantly, under strict guidelines.

Aboriginal and Inuit subsistence and commercial hunters begin
the kill Nov. 15 in Canada's vast expanse of frozen Northern
waters, which reach from the Yukon Territories near Alaska through
the Arctic Ocean and down into the North Atlantic off Labrador.

The spring leg of the commercial hunt starts in the Gulf of St.
Lawrence and moves to the Front, an arc of the Atlantic Ocean
sweeping out 30 to 40 miles from Newfoundland.

Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans says the country's
seal population is "healthy and abundant," and noted before this
year's hunt that there are an estimated 5 million harp seals,
nearly the highest level ever recorded and almost triple what it
was in the 1970s.