Ottawa will let fishermen kill an additional 50,000 harp seals this year, provoking the ire of activists who denounce it as a "reckless" move.
Fisheries Minister Gail Shea announced in a release that the total allowable catch (TAC) for harp seals will be boosted to 330,000. The TAC for grey and hooded seals remains steady this year at 58,200.
She stressed that the quota is based on "sound conservation principles."
The minister, who was not available for an interview, wrote in an e-mail forwarded by her spokeswoman that the change had nothing to do with grandstanding.
"If we were playing political games with the TAC, we'd have set it at a million harp seals," Ms. Shea said. "Let's be clear ... we base all our management decisions on a framework of sustainability and consultation with science and industry."
According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, there is an estimated population of 6.9 million harp seals. They note that is three times the number in the 1970s.
But anti-hunt activists say that the government is ignoring signs that the seals are under increasing stress. Rebecca Aldworth of Humane Society International said sea ice formation is the lowest on record. As a result, she said, more pregnant seals are aborting in the water and more young seals are forced off the ice before they are strong enough.
"Harp seals are facing an ecological disaster," she said. "The ice habitat of these ice-breeding seals is literally melting out from under them."
Yesterday's announcement follows a spate of government moves to publicize its support for the seal hunt. A push to incorporate sealskin into Canadian Olympic outfits fizzled, and G7 finance ministers reportedly turned up their noses at seal meat on offer during a recent meeting in Iqaluit. But the appearance of seal meat on the menu of the parliamentary restaurant drew a crowd of MPs from all parties. Ottawa has also been trying to open new markets for seal products in Asia, in the face of increased opposition in Europe.
"This government is united in its support of the thousands of coastal Canadian sealers who rely on the seal hunt for their livelihood," Ms. Shea said yesterday. "Our government recognizes the importance of the sealing industry to the people and the economies of Canadian coastal communities."
But Ms. Aldworth called the new quota another good reason for international condemnation of the hunt
"This is pandering to the East Coast electorate in the runup to the next election," she said. "With this raised TAC, all the Canadian government is doing is showing the world how absolutely reckless it is."