With the harp seal hunt beginning Friday in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, the annual public relations battle between hunt protesters and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is also underway.

'Hunters are working very hard to keep the seal industry alive.' — Michael Plamondon, DFO

Charlottetown is once again at the centre of the hearts and minds battle, with media and protest groups gathering from the United States and Europe. They include regular visitors such as the Humane Society of the United States, German television, the Atlantic Canadian Anti-sealing Coalition and the London Daily Mirror.

A celebrity protester is also brought out every year. Two years ago it was former Beatle Paul McCartney. This year it's fashion photographer Nigel Barker.

Rebecca Aldworth of the Humane Society of the United States is one of many protesters making the return trip, but she's hoping this will be the last year for it.

"Right now, the European Union is considering a ban on all seal product trade, which would cut off a very important market for the Canadian sealing industry, and in many people's opinion, possibly bring about the end of the commercial seal hunt," Aldworth told CBC News Thursday.

Michel Plamondon of DFO said the Europeans are misinformed.

"Animal rights activists say the hunt is cruel and that the hunters are bloodthirsty," Plamondon said, speaking in French to CBC News. "Totally untrue."

Plamondon said a Canadian delegation is currently in Europe delivering what they say are the facts. Other officials point out the European Union is a relatively small market for seal pelts. The big markets are in Russia and China.

Aldworth said the hunters themselves are growing tired of the hunt.

"People in the sealing industry are starting to think about the option of a buyout from the federal government," she said.

Also not true, said Plamondon.

"Hunters are working very hard to keep the seal industry alive, and it would very much surprise me if a hunter had said such a thing," he said.

The hunt began Friday for hunters from the Magdalen Islands only. Hunters from New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Nova Scotia will join the hunt Sunday.