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An environmental watchdog in Nova Scotia claims the MacDonald government has broken the law in allowing a limited seal hunt in a protected wilderness area.
Raymond Plourde, the Ecology Action Centre’s wilderness co-ordinator, said he doesn’t have a problem with the Hay Island hunt itself, but the way in which the province authorized it.
"This is illegal," Mr. Plourde said. "For us, it’s not about the seals; it’s about abusing your power and breaking the law."
Mr. Plourde said the Wilderness Areas Protection Act doesn’t allow the hunt, which Fisheries Minister Ron Chisholm announced last week. Hay Island is part of the Scatarie Island protected wilderness area off the northeast coast of Cape Breton.
Mr. Chisholm said the grey seal population has exploded and the hunt is necessary to protect fish stocks. The department is permitting hunting for several days only.
Wilderness areas fall under Environment Minister Mark Parent’s jurisdiction. Mr. Parent allowed the hunt under a section of the act that says he can permit otherwise prohibited activities "for the responsible management, preservation or restoration of indigenous biodiversity of a wilderness area."
Mr. Plourde said this hunt shouldn’t qualify for an exemption.
"Nothing is harming the integrity of that area," he said. "In fact, it could be argued that the seals are a huge part of the integrity of that area."
He said Mr. Parent should have sought an amendment to the act to allow the hunt. The act already permits recreational hunting. Mr. Parent said fisheries staff gave him a detailed explanation of the need for the hunt. He then had provincial lawyers take a thorough look at the issue, and they concluded he had the authority to allow the hunt without changing the legislation.
"The lawyers said, ‘Not only do you have the right, but you also have the responsibility,’ " Mr. Parent said. "It was a difficult decision."
The minister said the analysis included whether he had responsibility for the fish, not just the land. He said the issue was a bit of a grey area, with the discussion even getting down to whether seals were eating the fish when the tide was in and covering the land protected under the act.
Mr. Parent said conditions for the hunt include no motorized vehicles on the land, and no carcasses or garbage to be left anywhere.
He said he wants a report on whether the hunt damaged the island and another report from Fisheries about whether the hunt helped balance the biodiversity.