Nfld. & Labrador

Seal hunt opens in northern Gulf of St. Lawrence

Sealers and animal-rights activists expected on the ice
A hunter heads towards a harp seal during the annual East Coast seal hunt in this 2009 file photo. The Newfoundland and Labrador government is providing a $3.6 million loan to aid in the purchase of seal products this year. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The seal hunt in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence officially opened Tuesday morning.

The harvest further north and off the northeast coast of Newfoundland in the area known as ‘the front’ begins Thursday.

The provincial government is lending up to $3.6 million to a company buy seals from fishermen to ensure there is a hunt this season. The money will allow Carino Processing Limited to purchase seal pelts and blubber or fat.

Members of animal-rights groups say they be on the ice with a camera crew to videotape during the hunt.

"We’ll be there … based on the past, yes, we expect to see examples of inhumane killing," said Sheryl Fink of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

She said the IFAW expects a significant portion of the allowable catch, set at 400,000 animals, to be taken this year.   Despite that she said the IFAW believe the end of the seal hunt is just a matter of time.

Some people in the fur industry disagree. "Domestic markets have never been stronger," said Rob Cahill of the Canadian Fur Institute.

He said fur sales are not as poor as international headlines about politically driven bans on seal products might suggest.

"The product remains in demand," he said.

Sealers are expected to receive $ 27 per animal – significantly better than the $15 per animal they received in 2010, but still a fraction of the $100 dollars per seal they were paid a few years ago.

Research by the federal Fisheries Department has found that the harp seal population of Atlantic Canada is at between eight and nine million animals. A 2004 assessment of seal stocks estimated the harp seal population in the area at between 4.6 and 7.2 million.