Seal hunters, activists clash on schedule

Animal rights activists accused Canadian authorities on Monday of fomenting trouble to prevent them from scrutinising the controversial seal hunt that started over the weekend.

Seven activists were arrested on Sunday for getting too close to a vessel involved in the hunt while trying to document the slaughter on Sunday. They were later released.

“One of the conditions for observing the hunt is that you stay at least 10 metres away from hunters and the seven people arrested were less than 10 metres,” Michel Plamondon, a spokesperson for Canada’s fisheries department.

But Rebecca Aldworth of the United States Humane Society disputes that version, and insists the incident was staged.

According to Aldworth, the hunters’ ship—which had police and fisheries officials aboard—suddenly veered into the activists’ boat.

“We did not violate any law. It was a deliberate act.
They want us to leave the area,” she told Agence France-Presse, noting several hunters’ ships seemed to target their inflatable boats, managing to damage one.

“This was a calculated attempt by Canadian officials to keep observers from documenting the hunt,” Aldworth said, also demanding the return of video tapes that authorities confiscated.

Such clashes between activists and Canadian authorities have become commonplace at this time of year when thousands of hunters set out onto ice floes in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in eastern Canada to kill seals for their meat and pelts.

Despite protests by animal rights groups and celebrities including French film legend Brigitte Bardot and former Beatle Paul McCartney, Ottawa authorised the cull of 325 000 seals this year.

Canadian officials insist the commercial hunt does not threaten the species, which has tripled to 5,8-million animals over the past 30 years.

A mild winter and dangerously thin ice forced hunters to shoot their prey this year rather than club them on the ice floes. As well, the number of seals in the region was significantly less this year, officials said.

According to Plamondon, only 6 600 seals have been killed so far this season in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Next month, the hunt will be expanded north to Newfoundland province.

Officials will decide in the coming days whether to charge the seven activists, which would jeopardise the US Humane Society’s ability to document the hunt this year, Aldworth said. - AFP

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