BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Canadian politicians and sealers appealed to the European Union today not to impose a ban on products derived from seals.
The appeal comes amid renewed claims that Canada's annual seal hunt off its eastern and northern coast lines is cruel and inhumane.
The EU's environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, is considering a ban on all seal products amid increased pressure on him to take action by animal rights groups this year.
EU officials say he is expected to make his recommendations before summer.
Special Ambassador Loyola Sullivan, who was leading a weeklong Canadian trip to lobby officials in several European capitals, says imposing a ban could violate world trade rules.
And Sullivan is hinting at possible retaliatory trade action by Canada in response to any ban on seal products like blubber, meat or pelts.
"I believe strongly that there shouldn't be restrictions on access to markets,'' Sullivan told reporters. "The European Commission has an obligation to live up to their commitments. We hope they exercise that right.''
The Canadian government takes threats of a ban "very seriously'' and will defend "the legitimate sustainable, humane, economic activity for some of the most disadvantaged people in our country,'' he said.
The controversial hunt resurfaced at the European Parliament and EU headquarters as this year's hunt got under way last week in Canada, which is the largest such hunt in the world.
Similar hunts also are carried out in Greenland, Norway, Russia, Namibia and EU-member Finland, but none has been scrutinized by European activists as much as Canada's -- which has frustrated Canadian officials.
The European Parliament last year called on the EU to impose a fur import ban.
However, this year's hunt will be conducted under new rules, to appease European concerns, with extra steps added to make sure the animals are dead before they are skinned -- a recommendation made in an EU report released in December. That report was inconclusive on recommending a full EU ban.
Canadian authorities have set this year's total allowable catch at 275,000 seals, up from 270,000 last year. Seventy per cent of the seals will be taken in an area off Newfoundland's north coast known as the Front, while 30 per cent will be taken in the Gulf of St. Lawrence -- the first stage of the hunt.
Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik said a ban would damage already fragile isolated communities which are dependent on the annual seal hunt for incomes and food.
He also urged the 27-country EU not to apply a double standard on the hunt, citing examples of how animals are poorly treated and used after slaughter in Europe.
"I'm sometimes troubled by some countries that try to pretend that our harvest is somehow unacceptable,'' Okalik said. "At least in our case we are trying to use every part of the animal. ... Please look in the mirror and see what you are doing yourselves.''
Denis Longuepie and Mark Small, who hunt for seals off the coasts of Quebec and Newfoundland, said the way they kill seals with high powered rifles as opposed to hakapiks, or heavy clubs, is humane.
"We are very professional, we take courses, we do what we have to do,'' said Longuepie, from Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Que., where three seal hunters were killed on Saturday in a boating accident.
Sullivan said Canada was seemingly fighting an uphill media war against campaigns by animal welfare groups that often try to sway public opinion on the issue by showing photographs or film footage of cute and cuddly seal pups, and of dead and bloodied seals on ice flows.
"We continue to see ... images of white coat seals (the killing of which) have been illegal since 1987,'' he said. "They sensationalize, they take steps beyond manipulation.''
Environmental and animal rights groups have already slammed Canadian officials for not allowing them better access to observe this year's start of the hunt. They insist the mass cull is decimating the harp seal population.
They get in there, start causing all kinds of crap... trying to scare the seals off in some other direction, getting into fights with sealers and most likely these idiots will smack their ill-equip. boats into some ice and either need rescusing by our coast guard, or they'll end up freezing in the waters and dieing.... then we'll all get blamed for trying to cover something up, when it was their own stupidity that killed them.
And besides... if this hunt was destroying the seals population, how the hell could we continue each year to hunt hundreds of thousands of them in the first place? What else is out there to keep their population in check? Nothing.
Idiots. Get some education.
And perhaps they all should put two and two together as to why the hunt is needed..... Are we interfeering with nature by doing this hunt each year? Well we already interfeered with their lame "Global Warming" and if you wanted to use that logic, with the "Global Warming" the ice is thinner, therefore the polar bears have no practical method of hunting the seals due to no solid ground (Seals are more agile in the water) so put two and two together you wing nuts.... if their natural preditor can not get to them.... what's stopping their population from exploding? NOTHING!
Except us. Call it "Correcting Our Ways" if you will.