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Canadian fisheries minister says seal hunting needs to be better explained to rest of the world

January 12, 2010 | 10:45 am

Sealers hunt for harp seals during the 2009 hunting season in the Gulf of St Lawrence.

Canada's seal hunting season quietly opened in November along the eastern coast of the country.

The attention, and vocal sparring among anti- and pro-hunting interests, doesn't really ramp up until late February or early March, when female harp seals begin giving birth and more sealers take to the ice.

In the meantime, Canadian Fisheries Minister Gail Shea is trying to get the rest of the world to better understand seal hunting, slamming animal welfare groups in the process.

"Dealing with non-government organizations who are very well funded, who use these types of issues to get money into their coffers, is difficult," Shea told the Guardian in a late December interview. "They don't put out necessarily factual information. They still put out the picture of the little white seal pup, bleeding red blood on the white ice. We haven't hunted seal pups in decades."

Humane Society of the United States spokesperson Heather Sullivan told Outposts that although the young seals cannot be killed until they begin to molt their white fur, the pups are still less than 2 weeks old when their coats change.

Shea has been trying to battle a growing negative sentiment concerning the hunt, including a call to boycott all seafood exported by Canada.

"It's not just the seal hunt that's the target of these campaigns," she said. "You have to counter the campaign. We use whatever means we can to get the right story out there, the true story."

Shea asserts that the annual hunt has led to new products and research. Seal meat will be on the menu at the Canadian House of Commons parliamentary restaurant, and research is being conducted into the use of heart valves from seals, rather than from pigs, in open-heart surgery.

"Preliminary research has shown that they do not calcify quite as quickly and are a much better product,"  Shea said.

The fisheries minister is also dealing with a ban on seal products instituted last year by the European Parliament, which may have a dramatic effect on sales from this year's hunt. This ban may also influence the quota of seals to be killed this season, which has not yet been announced. Canada continues to work to find new buyers.

"There are other markets. The Europeans were a small market," Shea said.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Sealers hunt for harp seals during the 2009 hunting season in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Credit: Stewart Cook / IFAW

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