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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 April, 2004, 22:33 GMT 23:33 UK
Canada completes main seal cull
Canadian seal hunters (archive)
Previous seal hunts provoked international outrage
Canada has called a halt to the main thrust of one of the country's largest seal culls for more than 50 years.

Officials counting the number of seals killed in Newfoundland over the past two days have decided that hunters have reached 80% of their 350,000 quota.

"The main hunt is closed, but hunters in small boats can continue to hunt" until the quota is met, a Fisheries and Oceans department spokeswoman said.

Animal rights groups have criticised the hunt as needlessly cruel.

The government says the cull is necessary to protect the region's commercial fish stocks and that the seals are not threatened by extinction.

'Sliced open'

The first stage of the cull took place in March off the coast of Quebec and Prince Edward Island.

The cull in eastern Newfoundland started on Monday.

Vessels smaller than 35ft (10.6m) will be allowed to continue hunting seals until the quota is reached, or until the end of the season on 15 May.

Under new guidelines, most seals are meant to be shot and not clubbed to death in a bid to make the killing more humane.

However, the hunt has outraged animal activists who reject government claims the seals are being killed humanely.

Harp seal
Canada argues that the seal population is exploding
"I've observed the Canadian seal hunt each year for the past five years," Rebecca Aldworth, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) told AFP.

"This year we saw terrible cruelty, and almost no government monitoring of the hunt," she said.

"Just metres away from us, conscious seal pups were sliced open. They were dragged across the ice with boathooks. Injured seals were left to die in stockpiles of carcasses."

International campaign

Protests helped end the hunting of young seals for their pelts off Canada's east coast 25 years ago.

But the BBC's Lee Carter in Toronto says the huge international campaign against this year's hunt seems to have caught the Canadians by surprise.

One campaigning group, the US-based Humane Society, has been taking full-page adverts in prominent US newspapers to urge a travel boycott against Canada.

Groups have accused officials of "attempting to scapegoat seals" for their own fisheries mismanagement.

However, some of the major activist groups that targeted sealing in the past said they have other issues to address this year.

Greenpeace Canada is "not actively campaigning" against the hunt and is focusing on issues such as genetically modified foods and climate change, a spokesman said.

Fish stocks

The seal hunt in Newfoundland and Labrador went into decline 25 years ago, after images of hunters clubbing infant seals horrified TV viewers across the world.

Up to 350,000 baby harp seals to be killed this season
2,500 men and 150 trawlers gathered for intensive 36-hour phase of cull on 12 April
Up to 10,000 seals to be killed per daylight hour
Killing of "whitecoat" seals - aged up to 12 days - banned

The US banned imports of seal products in 1972 and the EU 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 with fur again in fashion, the hunt is back.

Canada increased the quotas last year, allowing a million seals to be killed over the space of three years.

Canadian Natural Resources Minister John Efford said many claims about the hunt were simply wrong.

He argued that the seal population was exploding - with an estimated 5.2 million harp seals in the North Atlantic at present - and commercial fish stocks were vanishing.

Mr Efford added that the cull was important for the local economy during a traditionally slow time of the year.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
"At least a 100,000 seals will have perished"

Canada embarks on mass seal hunt
13 Apr 04  |  Americas
Activists blast Canada seal hunt
07 Apr 04  |  Americas
Norway suggests tourist seal hunts
07 Nov 01  |  Business
Clubbing 'cruelty' on camera
20 Apr 98  |  Americas
Russian 'ice expedition' to save seals
18 Apr 01  |  Media reports

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