7 protesters arrested as tempers flare in seal hunt

7 animal-rights activists arrested as they interfere in seal hunt.

Seven animal-rights activists were arrested by Canadian fisheries officers on Sunday as the annual seal hunt got off to a violent start on the weekend.

The one woman and six men were picked up southeast of Iles de la Madeleine in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for allegedly coming too close to a sealing vessel, violating the conditions of their observer permits, said Roger Simon, a spokesman for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Observers are required to stay at least 10 metres away from sealers during the hunt.

"We have reason to believe that they did not respect that condition," said Simon.

The department did not give the names of the two Canadians and five foreigners who were released a short time after their afternoon arrests. Simon said fisheries officers would investigate the case before any charges are laid.

The arrests came after a string of angry confrontations between the sealers and activists protesting the hunt.

The annual commercial hunt started Saturday morning in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence with a quota of 91,000 seal pelts. The hunters took about 3,100 seals on the first day, well below the average of about 5,000 pelts, as they were hampered by warm weather, thin ice and the protests.

"A lot of the ice ... floated out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence," Simon told CBC News. The sealers were operating in only one of four areas so far, he said, adding there could be about 200 boats when the other areas open.

The much-larger northern hunt starts April 4, with a quota of 234,000 pelts.

Tempers flared during the first two days as activists tried to come between the sealers and their prey, using video cameras to record the slaughter.

The hunters hurled seal intestines and curses at the protesters, while activists claimed they were rammed by the sealing boats.

In one incident off Nova Scotia's northern coast, sealers allegedly rammed a small inflatable Zodiac boat used by protesters.

No one was hurt, but demonstrators were shaken up and the propeller of their boat was damaged, Rebecca Aldworth, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the United States, told the Canadian Press.

"The hunters may be frustrated and I know they don't want us documenting their activities, but that doesn't give them the right to risk people's lives," she said.

Simon dismissed the confrontation with the protesters aboard the Zodiac.

"The intestines are nothing new."

He said they normally hurl seal flippers, and added that shouting matches between sealers and protesters are common.

No charges were laid in the incident.

Several celebrities recently weighed in against the hunt, and the humane society is trying to convince restaurants to boycott Canadian seafood.

But the list of participating restaurants on its website is not long.

Simon accused the hunt's opponents of distorting the picture. "What you hear from the anti-sealers is a series of half-truths."

The federal government says the country's seal population is thriving at nearly six million, nearly triple the numbers in the 1970s.