Nfld. & Labrador

Mind yourself at seal hunt, Canada warns Watson

Canada's fisheries minister is cautioning one of the world's best-known anti-sealers to be on his best behaviour.

As the harp seal hunt opens in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada's fisheries minister is cautioning one of the world's best-known anti-sealers to be on his best behaviour.

Paul Watson, who has been campaigning against the seal hunt since the 1970s, says he will be observing the hunt when it opens Friday in the southern Gulf.

Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn said he expects no problems, so long as Watson follows the rules.

"From some of the experiences in the past, of course, we're not sure how far some of these people will push the limits," Hearn said.

"Sometimes I think they might want to test to see what our resolve is and, you know, let me assure anybody our resolve is to protect the sealers on the ice floes to make sure they can conduct a safe hunt," he said.

"Whatever has to be done to assure that, that's exactly what we will do."

Watson, an early member of Greenpeace, founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has protested the Canadian seal hunt over the years.

In 2006, his organization threatened a boycott of wholesale retailer Costco because it stocked seal oil capsules.

The preceding year, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was embroiled in controversy because a U.S. board member, Jerry Vlasak, had condoned assassination as a means of stopping the hunt. Vlasak was later dropped from the society's board.

This year, modified rules in the hunt require sealers to sever arteries under an animal's flippers to ensure the seal is dead before it is skinned.

'A dirty job'

Shane Briand, a fisherman from Cape Breton, said he'll be following those new rules.

He said seal hunting is a messy job, but the money helps.

"You can kill 500 animals in a day and you gotta start pelting all of them, and you got a lot of carcasses," said Briand, who works on one of two boats from Cape Breton that will head out to the icy waters off St. Paul's Island this weekend.

"It's a dirty job, but it makes a bit of income for me and helps [pay for] repairs on the boat before we start our spring fishery."

The hunt in the Gulf represents about 30 per cent of the overall Canadian hunt, but attracts the most protest and media attention because of the ease of access for opponents. Hunters there also use hakapiks, or long poles with metal hooks, during the hunt.

The larger hunt, in an area off Newfoundland's northeast coast known as the Front, will begin in April. Almost all seals there are shot by rifle.

The federal government has set a quota of 275,000 animals in this year's hunt, up 5,000 from last year.