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Saturday, March 21, 1998 Published at 09:22 GMT



Despatches

For Canada's seals, the hunt is on
image: [ The trade in baby seal's skins is banned, but hunting still goes on ]
The trade in baby seal's skins is banned, but hunting still goes on

The annual seal hunt has begun off Canada's Atlantic coast. The sale of seals and seal products brought in about $15 million last year. As in past years, seal hunt protestors are out on the ice floats, but for the first time, there was also a major protest in Canada's capital. Sean Eckford reports:

About 2,000 protestors from Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada marched on Ottawa's downtown Convention Centre. Inside the centre, the ruling Liberal Party is holding its bi-annual policy convention.

This was the first time the International Fund for Animal Welfare has held the protest in the Canadian capital, and IFAW says the turnout makes this the largest anti-sealing protest ever held in Canada. The Canadian government has set this year's seal quota at 285,000.

But environmentalists claim nearly twice that number are actually killed, mainly to supply a black market demand. Opponents also say the hunt targets baby seals, although the harvesting of the so-called 'white coats' were outlawed in the 1980s.

Rick Smith is the president of IFAW Canada. He says the legal market for seals has been artificially created by the Canadian and Newfoundland governments, and Mr Smith says government subsidies are the only reason the seal hunt continues.

Mr Smith called on delegates at the Liberal convention to pass a resolution against the seal hunt. The provincial government in Newfoundland vigorously defends the hunt.

John Efford is the province's fisheries minister. He says the hunt is tightly regulated to prevent cruelty and enforce the quota.

Mr Efford says IFAW is engaged in a deceitful propaganda campaign. There have also been other protests across Canada to mark the opening of the seal hunt.

Earlier this week, the high-profile anti-sealing activist Paul Watson arrived off the Atlantic coast. Mr Watson is the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society; and there was a protest in British Columbia in the home district of Canada's fisheries minister.






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