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Seal Hunters Ram Protesters' Inflatable Boat
SealersFling Bits of Carcasses at Activists
By Rheal Seguin
A bleeding seal

Frustrated seal hunters rammed a small vessel carrying protesters in the icy waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence yesterday as tempers flared during the second day of Canada's controversial seal hunt.

The group of animal-rights activists with the Humane Society of the United States was pursuing two fishing vessels from the Magdalen Islands to document the hunt when one of the sealing boats turned around and collided with the protesters' inflatable.

"He just came down on us and rammed into our Zodiac. We suffered some propeller damage and no one was hurt but the real risk was that these boats are quite flimsy and the ocean is very cold and had he capsized our boat, which he was in great danger of doing, we would have had just minutes to survive," humane society spokeswoman Rebecca Aldworth said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Ms. Aldworth, born and raised in Newfoundland, is determined to stop the hunt, calling for a boycott of Canadian seafood exports to the United States.

Yesterday's incident was captured on videotape and will be made available to the RCMP, Ms. Aldworth said. Department of Oceans and Fisheries official Jean-François Sylvestre was on the scene to investigate.

In another clash between the two groups during the first day of the hunt on Saturday, angry hunters charged the protesters' boat and flung seal intestines and other pieces of carcasses at the activists.

After yesterday's incident, the angry seal hunters returned to port before planning to hunt again later this week.

"The hunters are very frustrated. About 60 fishing vessels have returned. The sealers needed to calm down," said Jean-Claude Lapierre, a spokesperson with the Magdalen Islands sealers association. "The animals are scarce because of the thinning ice conditions. And now they have to deal with Ms. Aldworth's group who is intervening with our livelihood."

The 65-year old veteran sealer has been involved in the hunt since the age of 12 and he said in a telephone interview yesterday that if tensions continue to mount anything can happen.

"The hunters are being pushed and pushed. At some point somebody is going to snap. Now they've got footage of hunters throwing seal guts at them. That's probably what they wanted so they can use it against the sealers."

The unusual mild winter created havoc for most hunters, with baby seals clinging to small patches of ice, many of them drowning as the ice melts below them before they are old enough to swim. On his first day of hunting Mr. Lapierre said the conditions were so bad he only killed 60 seals compared with 500 on his first day last year.

The clashes were the first in a series of incidents expected between the sealers and the animal rights activists as this year's hunt is shaping up to be a pivotal confrontation with protesters determined to convince the international community to bring the contentious Canadian seal hunt to a close.

Last week French film legend Brigitte Bardot was in Ottawa to protest the annual hunt, 30 years after she launched a campaign that was instrumental in stopping the slaughter of seal pups in the 1980s. Other celebrities such as Paul McCartney and his wife Heather Mills McCartney joined the Humane Society's high profile boycott of Canadian seafood.

The seafood industry is carefully monitoring the impact of the boycott on export of its products to the United States, which contributes nearly $3-billion a year to the Canadian economy.

Last Friday Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who refused to meet with Ms. Bardot, said Canada was the victim of an international propaganda campaign that failed to underscore the actions taken by the Canadian government to ensure the hunt was conducted under the most humane conditions possible.

"We believe the country is acting responsibly and we'll make sure all rules are enforced," Mr. Harper said.

But yesterday animal rights activists said the hunting practices were as brutal and as inhumane as ever despite rules that bar the killing of seal pups less than 2-3 weeks old and who have not yet shed their snowy white fur.

"Earlier today I watched seals as young as 12 days old who were being clubbed or shot from boats as sealers raced to fill their quotas," Robbie Marsland, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare reported yesterday from Quebec's Lower North Shore region.

"At Chevery in Quebec, at the top of the Gulf of St. Lawrence we came across 10,000 seals. ... I witnessed men getting onto the ice, clubbing and shooting the seals, hooking and dragging them back to the boats with their hakapiks. These seals weren't all dead."

In his report, Mr. Marsland urged the Canadian government to put an end to "the cruel and unnecessary slaughter" of the seals.

Canada's seal hunt is the largest hunt of marine mammals in the world. This year the government quotas will allow for the killing of 325,000 seals. Because of poor hunting conditions, the St.-Lawrence portion of the hunt will probably end later this week and then move off to the coast of Newfoundland where the vast majority of the commercial kill takes place.

Harp seal pups are killed mainly for their pelts, which are sold to the fashion industry in Norway, Russia and China.

According to Mr. Lapierre, the hunt can generate anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 in additional revenues for a commercial fisherman, an important source of revenue for many coastal families.

"Some shrimp boats on the island here only make $8,000 to $10,000 a year. So the seal hunt is very important to them," Mr. Lapierre said.

In a video message from London, the McCartneys suggested that Canada end the slaughter by compensating the sealers for the loss in revenue. The Humane Society warned that if the Canadian government doesn't act soon, the boycott of Canadian seafood exports will end up costing the Canadian economy a lot more than what it takes in from the hunt.

"Already more than 400 seafood wholesalers, restaurants and grocery chains — and more than 220,000 individuals — have pledged to eliminate or reduce their sales of Canadian seafood until the seal hunt is stopped for good," Ms. Aldworh said.

The above article is from The Globe and Mail.






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