Thursday, March 27, 2008

IFAW disputes seal hunt changes will make annual killing more humane

An animal rights group is disputing a Canadian claim that this year's East Coast seal hunt will be more humane.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare said Thursday that a new regulation that requires hunters to bleed seals before skinning them "makes no real changes to the way seals can be killed."

Under new federal regulations, hunters will be required to sever the arteries under each flipper, thereby ensuring the animals are dead before being skinned.

But Sheryl Fink, a senior IFAW researcher, said the new regulations call only for "bleeding to be conducted at some point."

"Now that I have seen the actual text of the new condition of licence, I'm left speechless by its inadequacy," Fink said in a release.

"The impaling of live and conscious seals on steel hooks and hoisting them onto boats is still permitted. I don't know anyone who would call that an improvement in humaneness."

The hunt begins Friday in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. A much larger hunt off Newfoundland and Labrador will open in April.

This year's total allowable catch has been set at 275,000 seals, up from 270,000 last year. The total allowable catch was 335,000 two years ago, but poor ice conditions led to the change last year.

Registered hunters are not allowed to kill seal pups that haven't molted their downy white fur, typically when 10 to 21 days old.

Animal rights groups say the seal hunt, the largest marine mammal hunt in the world, is cruel, difficult to monitor, ravages the seal population and doesn't provide a lot of money for sealers.

Sealers and the Fisheries Department defend the hunt as sustainable, humane and well-managed and say it provides supplemental income for isolated fishing communities that have been hurt by the decline in cod stocks.

Rebecca Aldworth, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society International/Canada, said Thursday the Fisheries Department had refused to confirm if it will issue permits to observers wishing to document this year's hunt.

She said the hunt occurs in a public place and observing it is a right guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"This is another attempt by the DFO to cover up the cruelty of the commercial seal hunt on the eve of the European Union deciding if it will ban seal products," Aldworth said in a release.

The Fisheries Department could not be immediately reached for comment.

The European Union is considering a ban on all seal products, having outlawed the sale of the white pelts of baby seals in 1983. Union officials said Wednesday they're also considering measures against Canada to protest the hunt.

Special Thanks to Canada East

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