An assault charge laid against a Newfoundland sealer after a 2005 incident in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has been stayed, following an alternative remedy that benefits a food bank.

Dwight Spence, a resident of Port au Choix, was charged after an encounter with a seal hunt protester.

Authorities said Spence swung a hakapik— a hooked weapon used in the Gulf of St. Lawrence phase of the East Coast seal hunt— during the altercation.

RCMP in Prince Edward Island laid a charge against Spence last summer.

Spence has agreed to pay a $500 fine instead of going to court. A hearing had been scheduled for Jan. 18.

Lisa Goulden, a Crown attorney in Charlottetown, said the fine was a condition of Spence's case being sent to a diversion program instead ofto court.

Spence had no comment on the case, other than to say hedirected the fine to a P.E.I. food bank.

Under the diversion program, a person who had been charged is required to take responsibility for the incident, but does not have to enter a plea in court.

Tensions between observers, sealers

For years, sealers have been calling for tighter restrictions on observers at the seal hunt, which include members of animal welfare groups.

Many sealers have complained that observers break the rules by provoking and taunting them during the hunt.

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, however, has consistently responded that it cannot bar access to the hunt to those who wish to observe it.