TORONTO — Canada's annual seal hunt started Monday, under pressure from a possible European Union ban on imported seal products.
The world's largest marine mammal hunt was called "inherently inhumane" this month by a European Parliament committee that endorsed the bill to ban the import of seal products to the 27-member union. Animal rights groups say the hunt is cruel and difficult to monitor and ravages the seal population.
But sealers and Canada's Fisheries Department counter that the hunt is humane and sustainable and brings money to isolated fishing communities.
Fishermen sell seal pelts mostly for the fashion industry in Norway, Russia and China, as well as blubber for oil. The hunt resulted in exports worth about $5.5 million in seal products such as pelts, meat and oils to the EU in 2006.
Canadian politicians lobbied intensely to try to convince the European committee that the hunt is humane. The bill must be approved by the entire EU assembly and EU governments to become law, a move that could come as early as next month.
Though acknowledging that the shooting or bludgeoning of the animals is a bloody practice, Canadian authorities contend that the animals are killed quickly and do not suffer unnecessarily.
New rules are aimed at ensuring that seals are dead before they are skinned. Hunters are also forbidden to kill seal pups that haven't molted their downy white fur.
EU legal experts say the ban could violate world trade rules, and Canada has warned it might challenge a ban before the World Trade Organization.