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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 April, 2004, 20:24 GMT 21:24 UK
Activists blast Canada seal hunt
Archive picture of Canadian seal hunters
Activists say sealers ignore humane hunting guidelines
Commercial hunting of seals in Canada is back, and animal rights groups say it is bigger and more brutal than ever.

Up to 350,000 seals are expected to be killed in this year's hunting season, which began last week.

Activists say quotas have been upped to record levels because of growing demand from the fashion industries in Europe, Russia and China.

But officials say a big rise in seal numbers and the need to provide for 12,000 sealers justifies the increase.

The global trade in seal skin virtually collapsed in the 1980s, following a high-profile campaign led by figures like French actress Brigitte Bardot.

"We filmed and witnessed seals being skinned alive right in front of us
Activist Rebecca Aldworth
The United States banned imports of seal products in 1972 and the European Union followed suit a decade later with a ban on white pelt imports, taken from the youngest babies.

As a result, the Canadian Government reduced quotas for seal hunting to as low as 15,000 annually - mainly for meat and local handicraft.

But last year it increased the quotas again, allowing a million seals to be killed over the next three years.

Officials estimate there are 5.2 million harp seals in the north Atlantic currently.

Far from being endangered, the seals are responsible for the depletion of cod stocks, they say.

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The new Bardot? Society girl Paris Hilton joins the campaign
Animal rights groups accuse officials of "attempting to scapegoat seals" for their own fisheries mismanagement.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) also says government guidelines on humane hunting methods are being ignored.

"We filmed and witnessed seals being skinned alive right in front of us," Ifaw activist Rebecca Aldworth told Reuters news agency.

"We saw live seals being dragged while conscious across the ice with boat hooks, we saw stockpiles of dead and dying seals, it was really horrific."

Another group, the US-based Humane Society, is taking full-page adverts in prominent American newspapers to urge for a travel boycott on Canada.

They also designed shirts reading "Club Sandwiches Not Seals".

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